What really counts as an online purchase? Learn from this Consumerwatch case study

What really counts as an online purchase? Learn from this Consumerwatch case study

If you are going to buy something based only what you’ve seen on a computer screen, best it’s your screen and not the store’s. That’s the lesson Wendy Knowler shared from an unusual furniture purchase case in this week’s Consumerwatch.

Online shopping

Seeing is believing - but seeing on a computer screen can be tricky

When buying goods online, you always run the risk of being unpleasantly surprised when they are delivered. Going by photos and descriptions can never come close to being able to see and interact with a product physically. That’s why you get a “cooling off” period in terms of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act when you buy something online.

That means you have a week, from date of delivery, to change your mind and send it back (at your expense, if the company chooses not to absorb that cost) for a refund.

READ MORE: Get your full refund back as events and bookings are cancelled

It doesn’t have to be defective in any way, and legally you don’t have to provide a reason - you just say, within 7 days, that you don’t want it. You don’t have that “out” when you buy something in a shop. Only if it breaks in some way, within six months of purchase, through no fault of your own, do you have the right to return it for a refund - or replacement or repair; your choice. 

Tessa bought a few items from Weylandts Umhlanga recently - including a table, which was discounted in price to around R10,000 due to scratches.

She was happy with all the items when they were delivered to her, except for the table - it was smaller than she’d thought it would be.
Turns out the table wasn’t in the store the day she’d bought it - the store assistant showed it to her online

The store was imposing an 11% handling fee to take back the table, and waiving its usual 20% additional fee because of a miscommunication. And that’s perfectly legal, as retailers are not required to take back “change of heart” purchases bought in-store, and if they choose to do so, they can impose whatever terms and conditions they wish.

READ MORE: Event cancellations are at a high, be wary of advance bookings - Wendy Knowler

But it occurred to me that as Tessa had not seen the table in the store, but rather on the store’s computer screen, the purchase was essentially an online one.

So she should have been given the benefit of a cooling off period, meaning she could pay for the table to be returned to the store and get a full refund.

Turns out I was wrong about that. Take a listen, and take note of the lesson here… 

 READ MORE: Edgars account chaos: A checklist of how to go about the closure procedure

Cotton? Where?

Woolies has a lovely range of thermal underwear on sale, and in the case of the men’s vests, the word cotton appears on the packaging no less than four times: a prominent green circle on the front, stating “COTTON, sustainably sourced”, on the back, there’s the BCI logo - Better Cotton Initiative, “We support more sustainable cotton”.

But once you get the packaging off and engage with the garment, the label reveals that it's mostly made of polyester (62%), with 33% viscose and 5% elastane.

According to Woolworths, there was "an error in the packaging brief and design” and that resulted in "the incorrect fibre composition being printed on the packaging” of that vest range.

READ MORE: Edgars account holders frustrated by unfair extra monthly charges, Wendy Knowler explains

The company apologised and said it was “immediately” coming up with stickers to cover the references to cotton on those packs.

That's still a work in progress, but if you bought the product and feel duped by the “cotton, not cotton” thing, you’re entitled to a refund.

Contact Wendy

Get in touch with Wendy via her website or her Facebook page. Please note that Wendy is not able to personally respond to every email she receives. If she is able to take up your case, she will contact you directly. Here are other avenues for you to consider.

Listen to more podcasts from Wendy Knowler


 in the Consumerwatch channel below: 

Show's Stories