Online purchasing from overseas – buyer beware

The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) protects consumers – that is, any person who purchases goods or services for personal, domestic or household use. This protection does not apply to goods or services purchased for re-supply or use in a manufacturing process.

If a good is purchased and the consumer then changes their mind and tries to return the item, the ACL does not automatically require the retailer to refund the purchase price or to exchange the good. However a right to a refund does arise if you advised the salesperson that the item was needed for a specific purpose and the good does not meet that requirement.

When an item is faulty the ACL does offer remedies for consumers. But a distinction is drawn between a major fault and a minor fault and there exist differing remedies for these.

If the good is unsafe, or it does not do what it is supposed to do or is different from the description or you would not have bought the item if you knew about the problem it is a major fault. In any of these scenarios the consumer can choose to have a refund, have the item replaced or to have the good repaired. Retailers do not have the option of applying a 30 day time limit to these types of returns.

If the good has a minor fault which can be fixed fairly quickly and easily, the retailer can choose to give the consumer a refund, replace the product, or repair it.

The ACL applies to all types of Australian consumer transactions, including online sales. For instance, if you bought a laptop from a company whose website supplied information about the weight of its products and after receiving the laptop you thought it was too heavy to carry comfortable, unless you had made your needs known to the seller, you would not be entitled to return the laptop for a refund.

But it is vital to realise that the ACL only applies to Australian-based retailers, not when the retailer is from overseas and not if they are a private seller.

So, beware when buying online from overseas-based sellers.