Online shopping sales have rocketed due to the spread of COVID-19. With most of us spending a significant amount of time quarantining at home this year, using the internet to make purchases has become the norm.
Internet sales as a total percentage of sales in the UK rose from 2.8% in November 2006 to 18.9% in February 2020. Then, due to the pandemic, they shot up rapidly to 30% in April 2020. Now one in five of our pounds of total retail spending is online, and that figure looks set to increase further.
This Christmas, the online retail industry is expecting an enormous surge in demand as consumers continue to social distance and opt for convenience. Shoppers are warned to start purchasing early or risk missing out.
However, there’s no need to panic buy. Andy Mulcahy from IMRG, the industry body for online retailers, suggests spreading out Christmas shopping over the next couple of months: “If you can spread out your shopping and do quite a lot of it in November, maybe even a bit of it now, then that would really help.”
We also need to factor Black Friday (27 November) and Cyber Monday (30 November) in our thinking as we wonder how our online shopping habits continue to evolve this year and beyond.
And how can we practise our consumer rights as we move our custom online, especially with the growing number of scams arising?
Online shopping and COVID-19
As the pandemic has persisted, many of us have relied on the internet to purchase everything from groceries to clothing.
However, it’s not just essentials most of us have been buying in lockdown. Bored at home, many of us have become creative with our lockdown purchases.
There’s been a surge in paddling pool and inflatable jacuzzi sales, and many people have taken their time and money to invest in their backyard. eBay saw hot tub orders soar by a whopping 1,080% in April 2020 as people planned to spend more time in their gardens during the summer months.
The online shopping landscape hasn’t just shifted due to increased adoption of eCommerce. Thanks to COVID-19, many merchants have been forced to take their business online out of sheer necessity. Without selling online, many companies would have been unable to survive throughout the pandemic.
Now more than ever, ordering products online has been the best option for ease and convenience. There are various online ordering options available too, from door-side delivery to click-and-collect pick-up.
Online while shopping is straightforward and flexible, what about our consumer rights when we buy on the internet? It’s worth understanding how the rules work, especially when it comes to understanding the procedures, requirements and rights regarding returning products, as well as what you should do if any items arrive damaged.
What does the Consumer Rights Act have to say?
Items bought online are covered under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This legislation allows consumers to claim a return of payment or a replacement of goods if the delivered item doesn’t meet specific criteria, which include:
Any goods you buy online must arrive in ‘satisfactory quality; which means, if your items are brand new, they should come undamaged, clean, and in proper working condition.
Items bought online should meet the product description precisely. If you purchased something pre-owned, this criterion is incredibly helpful as the seller must highlight any faults or damages in the product description.
Fit for purpose
Any goods purchased must fit the purpose intended for.
What are my rights if a product is faulty?
If you receive an item that is faulty or damaged, it doesn’t meet the standard of ‘satisfactory quality.’ This means you are entitled to a full refund from the merchant.
However, there is a rigid time frame for when you can apply for a refund. If the product arrives faulty or becomes faulty quickly after purchasing, you have 30 days from the date of the sale to claim your refund.
What are my rights on returning items?
If you receive a product that isn’t damaged or faulty, but you’d still like to return it, you must do so within 14 days from the date you received it. However, the product must be in a ‘sellable condition.’
What is considered as a sellable condition depends on the item and the retailer. If you’ve removed the plastic packaging from a CD, for example, you may not be able to return it.
What are my rights if an item doesn’t arrive?
Online merchants have up to 30 days to deliver items from the day of purchase. If your goods don’t arrive within 30 days, you’re entitled to claim for a refund or replacement.
This sometimes applies if you pay for next day delivery and your goods don’t arrive the following day. If you’re unsure, check the retailer’s terms and conditions on guaranteed delivery dates and refunds.
How do I avoid online shopping scams?
The rise of online shopping has also given fraudsters plenty of new ways to try and gain access to your card details or to steal your newly purchased items.
The cost of cybercrime to the UK economy is billions of pounds a year, and the figure is expected to grow. Fortunately, there are plenty of practices to learn to avoid becoming a victim of online shopping scams.
First, avoid reusing your password across lots of different websites, email addresses, and social media platforms. If a hacker gets hold of one password from an account, they’ll likely try it with others.
Likewise, make sure your computer has up-to-date anti-virus software downloaded to keep your details safe while browsing.
If you’re making a purchase worth more than £100, it’s best to use a credit card. Under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, any sales over £100 are legally protected, even if you just pay the deposit on the card. If an item arrives faulty or not as described, or fails to turn up, the credit card company is jointly liable with the retailer.
If you’re feeling wary about using a new retailer, be sure to research the brand. Look up their reviews from people who have purchased items and services from them in the past. If there are a few too many negative reviews, consider looking elsewhere.
How do I avoid ‘porch pirates’?
With the growth of online shopping comes more and more ‘porch piracy.’ A porch pirate steals packages and postal items left outside homes, offices, and other buildings. Often these deliveries are taken from front porches and building lobbies where items are left when nobody is home or available to receive them.
Often, there is debate as to who is at fault. Some people blame the delivery companies and their staff members for failing to ensure the safety of the packages. Others blame the thieves, some of which have mastered the trend and follow delivery trucks, stealing items as soon as they are dropped off. Some people attack homeowners for failing to protect their goods.
If you want to reduce your risks of losing online deliveries, consider shipping goods to a work address or a trusted friend or neighbour who will be home. If you’re ordering from Amazon, try using an Amazon Hub Locker, which are sometimes located in local supermarkets or Post Offices.
You can also ask the big delivery firms such as FedEx or UPS to keep a package at one of their facilities until you have the time to pick it up.
What if I fall victim to a porch pirate?
If it appears that you’ve had a package stolen from outside your home, first contact the merchant that sold you the item. Different retailers offer various policies and processes for dealing with stolen items, but most will provide you with a refund or replacement.
Amazon uses its ‘A-to-Z’ Guarantee Protection to cover most stolen goods. However, sometimes purchases via Amazon are sourced from retail partners called ‘Amazon Sellers.’ If you purchase from an Amazon Seller, you must attempt to settle the issue with them first. If they refuse responsibility, there are still some steps you can take to reach reimbursement.
Sometimes, merchants shift responsibility to the shipping company or ask you to file a complaint. You may also have to wait a specific number of days to see if your package will be delivered. In these circumstances, it’s worth filing a claim with the shipping company as well as the retailer.
There are online claims processes for UPS, FedEx, USPS, and DHL to report any missing packages and they are also all contactable by phone.
Black Friday and Christmas prospects
It’s likely that this year, following the spread of COVID-19, many consumers will stick to online shopping for the big events on the retail horizon. eBay says 44% of consumers expect to do more of their Christmas shopping online than previously, and 33% intend to do all their Christmas shopping online this year.
Worryingly for the bricks-and-mortar retail world, 57% told eBay that it’s easier to purchase what they need online rather than buying in physical stores.
Amazon Prime Day, which usually takes place in July, has been scheduled for autumn this year. This move could affect what offers we see available made by Amazon during Black Friday. Amazon’s Prime Day is an annual event exclusively for Prime members, offering two days of cut-price savings on plenty of items.
We’ll update this article when we know when Amazon Prime Day is going to be this year.
Online shopping will be more popular than ever this Christmas season, so staying in the loop and browsing your favourite retailer’s online offerings in good time is recommended for making the best savings during the sales.
Caitlin Roe, senior eCommerce trading manager at cosmetics firm Lush, said: “Looking towards the festive season, we anticipate consumers will begin shopping online for gifts earlier compared to previous years. We’ve seen many new customers over lockdown, so also expect for them to return to buy their Christmas gifts.”
Lush Digital saw growth approaching 400% in the UK following the impact of COVID-19, with many new customers using its online platforms.
With so many events, occasions, and gatherings cancelled, retailers are hoping that Brits will find other ways to make the Christmas season as memorable as possible.
But while many customers prefer the ease of online shopping, many people still have a strong sense of responsibility towards local companies and physical shops. In the eBay survey, over half (55%) stated that they will at least do some of their Christmas shopping in physical shops and 53% aim to support local businesses.
Online shopping – where next?
And further into the future? The question remains whether online shopping will continue to rise rapidly when shoppers feel more comfortable heading back to the high street following the pandemic. One theory is that there is likely to be a rise in the hybrid ‘omnichannel’ shops, fronted by companies like Amazon, that combine online shopping and physical storefronts with services such as Amazon Go.
In the US – and later this year in the UK – Amazon Go shops offer check-out-free shopping using ‘Just Walk Out Technology’ to automatically detect when items are taken from or returned to the shelves. Virtual carts keep track of the items.
It’s reported that Amazon plans to open at least 30 physical shops in the UK, with the first set to open by the end of the year.
While online shopping skyrocketed during the pandemic to help with social distancing and reducing contagion, it may be the new normal for retail.
Tony Preedy, the chief commercial officer of online marketplace Fruugo, said: “While digital transformations and the shift to online have been big movements within the retail sector for many years, we see the pandemic as being a watershed event for consumer behaviour.
“Consumers have adapted to the ease and convenience of online shopping, which means we can expect this shift towards online to be a long-term trend.”