Poor distance selling compliance

Terms-and-conditions I wrote an article about returning white goods appliances under distance selling regulations which was inspired by my personal experience of trying to return a large product under these regulations. I found the company involved reluctant to comply and they put several obstacles in our way. My experience may be useful to others.

Although the product involved was not an appliance, it was similarly large and expensive. I ordered some conservatory furniture online but when it arrived my wife found the seat much too deep and could not sit comfortably on it. Her legs could not touch the floor. This is exactly the type of thing the distance selling regulations are designed for. If we had been able to see the furniture in a shop or showroom first we would have been able to sit on it and see that it was unsuitable. From just a photo it’s not possible to judge.

The trader’s terms and conditions stated that there would be a 15% charge to return an item under the distance selling 14 day period, which as the product cost £1200 worked out at £180. This clearly did not reflect the cost of returning it at all, and to me was designed to put people off returning anything, and to make a decent profit out of it if they did.

I know traders can make a charge to recover return costs, and it must be stated in their terms and conditions, but these charges should reflect only the true costs. I challenged this figure and negotiated a substantially reduced charge.

A percentage charge can’t possibly reflect return costs. Using percentages means that a small expensive item, which is easy to return, would cost considerably more to return than a cheaper but large and bulky one that took two men to lift. Such charges are clearly more designed to salvage a profit or punish customers for returning items.

Loss of value

A trader can also charge for any loss in value of a returned product. However, if the product is returned in perfect condition, and has not been used, you wouldn’t normally expect it to have lost any value at all. Some traders might try charging too much and seeing if they can get away with it.

It’s up to us to make a judgement as to whether any deduction seems reasonable or not and potentially challenge it or buy from elsewhere. Be prepared for return costs to be a fair bit more than the delivery costs though because appliances are commonly delivered to us at subsidised costs or even free.

Original packaging clause

They also had in their terms and conditions that the item must be returned in its original packaging. I’ve seen this many times since elsewhere. The delivery man specifically offered to take away the packaging, which I originally took for good service, but then realised how convenient that would have been for them insisting that products can only returned with their original packaging. They can’t insist on original packaging. However, if the product is received back damaged there will be problems (see link for more details at bottom of this article).

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Always check the terms and conditions under “returns policy” before ordering anything via catalogue, brochure or online, especially if you think you might potentially have to return it, and especially if it isn’t from a major household-name retailer. If there are unacceptable terms you can consider whether they are the best place to buy from. If they haven’t even updated their distance selling regulations notice and still quote only 7 days they are in breach of the regulations.

We have up to 14 days now. Obviously large items such as furniture and white goods appliances shouldn’t be ordered speculatively with a mind to sending it back, it’s just too much trouble. If you find it’s totally unsuitable because of something you could only see once you had the appliance delivered then don’t use it and arrange for it to be returned.


Large retailers should have proper policies in place and some even make it very easy. They can often absorb the costs in return for keeping customers happy and coming back – especially when they sell a lot of different products. Smaller retailers can be hit hard financially, especially if they are overstretching themselves trying to sell to a large area. These are the companies most likely to have less than ideal or punitive returns policies.

Finally, remember that returning damaged or faulty goods is totally different from returning something under the distance selling regulations. There should be separate sections and different terms in an retailer’s terms and conditions.

More important information

My (original) main article has more details and information – Distance selling regulations ? returning appliances

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3 thoughts on “Poor distance selling compliance”

  1. I thought that the packaging issue had been sorted in court some years ago. That is packaging should not be expected to be kept beyond a reasonable time, that not everybody can store the packaging and that if returned in good packaging, but not that supplied with the goods that should be acceptable. I have received goods insufficiently packaged and returned in far better packaging.

  2. Hello Geoff. Yes traders often just decide what they would prefer and try to impose it. Terms have to be reasonable of course and as in my case it was very unreasonable for their driver to offer to take our packaging away when they had a policy of insisting all returned goods must be in original packaging. The only requirement is that goods are received back undamaged.

    Obviously it’s best to try and use the original packaging but any suitable packaging will do. It’s tempting to throw it away asap or let the delivery people take it (if they will) but if we later decide to send it back that’s going to cause a problem – especially with items like washing machines and other white goods appliances.

    1. I frequently keep smaller items packaging for some considerable time, frequently 2-3 years depending on item, but when you or talking about white goods that is different. Frequently large items like cookers, washers, etc these days have covering on the corners and are then shrink wrapped.

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