Consumer’s Rights When Shopping Online

Due to the exceptional circumstances posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an unexpected surge in online shopping by consumers as opposed to in-store shopping. In order to safeguard their health and mitigate the spread of the virus, people are avoiding face-to-face interactions by means of online shopping which has revolutionised the way traders sell good and services, including those products which were customarily bought in-store.

Traders offering their goods by distance means are regulated by the Consumer Rights Regulations (S.L.378.17) (the “Regulations”). These Regulations protect consumers when purchasing online, through a website or a mobile app or by another means of distance communications, such as through the phone. It is therefore important that businesses which are taking their services online are aware of what needs to be covered in their terms and conditions, and what their main obligations are, when selling online.

 The Consumer’s Right to Information

Traders are bound to provide consumers with precise and detailed information about the business, their contact information and information about the goods or services offered prior to the conclusion of a contract. Such information should include a description of the product’s main characteristics and a clear indication of the total price of goods listed inclusive of tax and any additional charges such as delivery costs.

The trader is obliged to further provide the customer with the necessary information relevant to mode of payment and delivery time, a reminder of the existence of a legal guarantee of conformity for goods, conditions relating to after-sales customer assistance or services and commercial guarantees (where applicable).

Most importantly, the consumer must be informed of the existence or absence of the right of withdrawal, and any applicable costs applicable for returning the items bought.

 The Right of Withdrawal, and its application during COVID-19

The consumer has a period of fourteen (14) days during which he may withdraw from a distance contract without incurring any penalty or giving any reason. Such withdrawal period shall commence to run upon the date of receipt of goods or in the case of services from the day of conclusion of the contract. Provided that this may be extended if the seller fails to provide the consumer with the relevant information to exercise his right of withdrawal.

If the consumer chooses to exercise this right, he must inform the trader of such decision and the trader shall be obliged to reimburse all payments. The goods must be returned not later than fourteen (14) days from the day the consumer has exercised his right of withdrawal and the consumers shall bear the delivery costs unless they were not informed by the trader of such costs prior to the online purchase.

There is no exception for the application of the right of withdrawal in the COVID-19 context. However, the law provides for exceptions where the right of withdrawal would not apply such as the supply of goods which are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly, and the supply of sealed goods which are not suitable for return due to health protection or hygiene reasons and were unsealed after delivery.

The Processing of Personal Data

There is a surge of businesses trading online, which were previously not used to process their customers’ personal data, since purchasing was done in-store. When processing personal data, it is important that the customer is informed on how his data is being used.

Websites and mobile apps typically include a privacy policy which explains how personal data is processed. When a website shifts from a simple advertising medium to a shopping portal, which enables the user to purchase from it, it is important that the privacy policy is also updated to take into account this change in processing. If the website uses cookies, then these need to be explained in a cookie policy and consent obtained for those cookies which are not necessary for website performance.

It is also important that the data collected is only used for the purpose it was collected for, and that it is used for direct marketing purposes only if there is explicit consent by the individual concerned.

The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this article without seeking legal or other professional advice.

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