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Complain for change: you can cancel your online order

Online shopping icons with complain for change logo

Did you know that online retailers have to let you cancel your order if you change your mind? You only have up to seven working days to do so after receiving it, but it appears not all retailers know the rules.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has confirmed that more than 60 ‘top online retailers’ (they won’t name names) are flouting consumer law by failing to provide accurate information about your shopping rights.

Now, as a well seasoned politician would say, ‘let me be clear’. I’m not out to make life difficult for online retailers, but I do get annoyed when consumers end up out-of-pocket and stuck in frustrating negotiations because they’re not made aware of their legal rights.

Returning online goods

The Distance Selling Regulations may not sound very inspiring but they do actually give you impressive rights and protection when you buy goods at a distance – be it online, by catalogue, by phone or from a TV shopping channel. In a nutshell, you have the right to a description of the goods or service you’re buying, the price, delivery and cancellation rights and information about the seller – which includes a geographical address if payment is taken.

If you choose to cancel your order, you have the right to do so at any time  from the point of making the order up to seven working days from the day after receiving your goods. And significantly, if you cancel your order before receiving your goods the retailer must pay return postage costs, even if their T&Cs says differently.

But despite these regulations, it seems that some online retailers are still giving consumers the wrong information about their right to cancel.

Caught in the act

A recent example of this came to light when my colleague Amanda ordered a cycling jacket from online retailer Wiggle. On receiving her confirmation email a couple of hours later, she realised she’d bought a wind-proof jacket rather than a waterproof one. She immediately clicked on the link to cancel her order but when she did so, she received a message telling her that she was unable to do so because her item had already been dispatched.

In flagging the rules with this retailer Amanda was offered the option of returning her unwanted purchase and their representative said:

‘I have passed this on to the appropriate department. We take feedback like this very seriously and this has been passed for further consideration. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.’

Have you found it difficult tp cancel an online order after realising you bought the wrong thing? Have you been asked to pay return postage even though you cancelled an order before the goods were delivered?


If the OFT has found that 62 online retailers are breaking the law, then we deserve to know which ones to boycott. I was unaware that it was possible to sign away your rights, so thanks for pointing this out, Eleanor.

At times, I wonder why we go to the trouble of setting up legislation and not enforcing it.

I think it’s important to remember that the Distance Selling Regulation right to cancel does not apply to the following (plus more):

customised goods,
vehicle hire,
goods won in an online auction,
hotel accommodation to be performed on a fixed date,
flight tickets,
train tickets
concert tickets,

But the majority of other distance contracts for goods can be cancelled any time up until the performance of the contract and up to 7 working days after delivery – this cancellation must be in writing (a durable medium).
telephone cancellations are no good!

There are plenty of exceptions and it would make sense for companies to explicitly state where goods and services are exempt from the Distance Selling Regulations.

Alpinerock says:
12 October 2012

Distance Selling Regulations apply to ‘Buy it now’ items on online auctions.

Chris Grey says:
12 October 2012

The fact that some items are not included in DSR is a failure in itself. The list provided is all very well but it should be time limited. I discovered my ‘error’ within a day of purchase and that was 10 days before the event. That surely gives them the ability to sell the tickets. At least there should be the ability to resell the tickets!

The distance selling regualtions level the playing field between contracts formed at a distance and in a trader premesis, making consumers as confident to purchase online as in a store – giving the consumer the opportunity to ‘try on’ goods in a similar way you can in a showroom or a changing room.

There is nothing in law stating a trader has to refund you money if you order the wrong amount of goods, online or in store – the only thing that is continually relevent to these kind of errors is the age old saying:
“thou must check thyself before thy wreck thyself”

Chris Grey says:
12 October 2012

My most recent experience with this is with Ticket Master. I accidentally purchased 5 tickets for a show on the wrong date (somehow I ordered for 24/10/2012 instead of 24/11/2012). There is no facility whatsoever to get this changed. I tried every avenue on their site to no avail. I tried calling them but it is a fully automated service which tells you that they do not allow exchanges of tickets (I was not pursuing a refund; just to get the tickets to the correct date). I tried using their Ticket Exchange system but my show was not allowed (I suspect that they only allow exchanges once a show has sold out). So I am now stuck with hotel accommodation in London in November and a show in October!

Suzi says:
12 October 2012

At last – very glad to see these abuses are being tackled. Far too many online retailers both make you pay for return postage when you send an order back and refuse to refund the original delivery charges. But if a customer cancels an order & returns an item within the DSR time limit they should get the orginal postage costs refunded. When I pointed out to one online retailer that their T&Cs were not compliant with consumer law they replied (rather rudely) that maybe I would be happier shopping elsewhere!
Some sellers say that if you want to cancel unr DSR terms you can only cancel a whole order & not
part of it. Is that correct?

I ordered pictures from AllPosters and despite cancelling the order in less than 12 hours (and before the next working day), they refused to acknowledge my emails and follow-up communications. I was thankful that I had paid by credit card as in the end, I had to reclaim my money from the credit card company as the online retailer refused to pay up.

I’ve noticed that a number of EBay sellers either refuse to accept returns for ‘Buy it Now’ items, or else hedge them with a long list of requirements. Also, it’s not only online retailers, some very big mail order companies fail to implement the DSRs correctly

Hi Eleanor: The OFT guide to the DSRs for consumers is pretty clear. You have the right to cancel an order from the time the order is placed, to seven working days after the goods are delivered. The guide also says that the retailer is responsible for refunding standard delivery charges. It also confirms that ‘Buy It Now’ items on auction sites ARE covered by the DSRs. The excluded items in most cases are those in which a refund would not be given in face to face sales either. Personally I think the OFT guide is plain enough and that auction sites themselves should monitor their sellers to make sure that the DSRs are being followed. One seller is even stating that they’ll retain a 30% restocking fee, even if the goods are returned under the regulkations.

AnnoyedCustomer says:
25 February 2014

I have recently made a purchase at Holland and Barrett online and immediately after placing the order I realised that the delivery address was incorrect. I phoned their customer services and was told that it was not possible for them to change the address as they do not have the systems in place to do that – so I sent an email stating that I wished to cancel the order. That was within an hour of placing the order. It is now more than 50 days since the order and I have still not received a refund despite several requests. Who can I complain to now?

Two weeks ago I placed an order online for a child’s bed and some furniture. At the time of placing the order I was not made aware of any excessive delivery timescales and even my order confirmation said nothing about expected delivery dates. It did say that my goods had been ‘allocated’
I waited two weeks and still no sign of my items, so I called the retailer who informed me that according to their T&C’s they have up to 28 days to delivery my goods. Apparently my goods have been sent to some shipping depot that the company use and they were still unable to give me an idea of estimated delivery.
I was told that the 28 days is what I must have agreed to when placing the order as it states this in the terms and conditions and that is that!
I then decided to cancel my order, exactly 14 days after placing the order online.

I am now in a detailed email debate with the company (family business) they are saying that they can refund my order, however they will charge me £55 for delivery. I argue that I have not taken delivery of the goods, but they highlighted what is written in their T&Cs
.0 Unwanted Or Incompatible Goods

If you purchased the goods online and are a consumer (a private person buying for their personal use) then you may cancel your purchase at any time within 30 working days of receipt starting the day after delivery by informing The Home & Office Stores in writing (email, fax or letter) and we will give you a refund of the price paid for the product, original shipping costs will not be refunded and will be deducted from the refund total. It is a pre-condition to our acceptance of these unwanted goods that they are returned in an unassembled and unused condition, complete and in a condition reflecting your statutory duty of care (at your own cost).

I purchased the goods with a ‘Free Delivery’. The order acknowledgement states £0.00 for delivery costs, therefore is the retailer within their rights to charge me for a delivery that I have not received.
I have found the same goods with another retailer who can have them with me the next day. I am wanting to evoke my right to cancel under the ‘cooling off’ period, however I argue that I do not have to pay for any delivery charges for a non delivery.

Am I correct with this and should I continue to argue this with the retailer who is now guiding me towards their legal department to take this with them?

Rob Beresford says:
16 August 2016

I’m not sure if the rules have been negatively changed since but can you show me where in the DSR and/or the newer Consumer Contracts Regulations, the bit about cancelling an order before dispatch, after dispatch but before delivery and the effect of refusing delivery?

I placed on order with an online retailer but then requested cancellation just minutes after. They acknowledged my cancellation request as follows:

Customer service is open from Monday to Saturday, from 8am to 6 pm
Your cancellation request has been forwarded to our logistic department.
We will get back to you shortly

The moment I placed it and I took a screenshot just in case. but nobody ever got back to me despite the that their customer service is open Monday to Saturday (order placed Saturday 8:55am, screenshot of cancellation acknowledgement shows 9:12am.

On Sunday evening at 8:10pm (the following day) I receive this delightful email that suggests they completely ignored my cancellation request as follows:

Thanks for your purchase on Tyre Leader on 13-08-2016 of the following items :
Avon ZV7 205/45 R17 88V XL
Please read the instructions below for a smooth delivery.
• Sometime, it may happen that all the parcels aren’t delivered on the same day due to circumstances beyond our control.
You are about to receive tyres and/or accessories :
• Avon ZV7 205/45 R17 88V XL
• On delivery, make sure that what you’ve received is what you’ve ordered. If it were not the case, you should report it to the courier and refuse delivery.
• If case of incomplete delivery, please report it on the delivery sheet of the carrier, mentioning the number of parcels received and accept delivery.
Information about your tracking number :
• Tracking numbers are activated after 24/48h minimum and for some deliveries, trackings are unavailable.
• You may contact the support service if you haven’t received your order within 6 working days.
• Support is available directly from your account by selecting “ my support” on the page : https://www.tyreleader.co.uk/my-account/my-orders/
All enquiries receive an answer under 24h ( except weekend and holidays). Thanks for your understanding.

As you may note, they say ALL inquiries receive an answer under 24 hours (except weekend and holidays) yet it’s now Tuesday and I still have no answer but I note the charge on my credit card is no longer pending and has now completed.

I spoke to MBNA on Monday and they’ve told me they can’t do anything until the charge completes but advised I refuse to accept delivery. Considering I cancelled just minutes later and more than 24 hours elapsed before they gave me some rather vague dispatch info, I can’t see how they can possibly consider not refunding in full.

I really feel this sham needs naming and shaming. It’s not like I didn’t give them any notice.
Btw, the only way to contact them (other than snail mail) is through their online contact form as there appears to be no phone or email address. Seems they want to make it as hard as possible to contact them but at least I received acknowledge the moment I placed the cancellation request.

Really hope you can help

Rob, the BIS guide to the Consumer Rights Act (aimed at businesses)says:

“10. 14 day right to cancel for goods bought at a distance or off-premises
If you sell goods to a consumer at a distance or off-premises (see above for further information on what distance and off-premises contracts are) then the consumer has a 14 calendar day period in which they may change their mind and cancel the contract (unless an exemption applies – see below) 6.
Note that this right for the consumer to return goods within 14 days is different and separate to their rights if the goods do not meet the requirements of the Consumer Rights Act. The consumer may use this 14 day cooling off period to cancel without giving a reason, if goods were bought off-premises or at a distance.
The 14 day period starts the day after the consumer, or someone selected by the consumer, receives the goods.”

So if the goods are delivered you can return them for a full refund without any reason. However, you will have to pay the return delivery cost. Given your rights it seems pointless for the supplier to have continued with your order if you clearly cancelled it well before despatch. They have caused you to incur a return delivery cost unreasonably and should refund this also; quite how you enforce this I’m not sure.

Fortunately it seems that this will be MBNA’s problem as their client is telling them what has happened it would be awkward in the extreme not to simply charge-back the payment.

Please let us know how you get on Rob.

*Good stuff malcolm.

Paul Cook says:
22 September 2016

As above: an item ordered online and cancelled within an hour of the purchase. Cancellation request was acknowledged but advised that they would need to contact the warehouse. Notification was then received that order was being dispatched 48 hours (during working week) after cancellation issued. Contacted consumer services who advised me to accept receipt of order (as there would be significant delay to refund) and that they would charge £60 for return. As it happens between communications I had refused receipt of the purchase. I’ve now been refunded all but the £60. I recognise that had the item of been dispatched prior to or immediately before my cancellation, it would be unfair to expect the retailer to pay the return costs but with 48 hours (two complete working days) to account for cancellation, I am not happy to pay. Furthermore, I feel such high return figure does not reflect the costs of transporting.

You have the right to return goods ordered on-line within fourteen days of receiving them but you usually have to pay the cost of returning them. The return transport cost will depend on the item concerned and you have not told us what that is. However, your main concern is that the supplier had plenty of time in which it could have stopped the shipment and is, presumably, arguing that once a purchase has been committed the delivery process has started and the warehouse is preparing the goods for transport. In my view unless the consignment has actually left the warehouse the goods are still under the supplier’s control and a cancellation instructioin within that period should be executed. To allow the goods to continue through the shipping process when a cancellation instruction has been received and acknowledged and while the goods are still fully under the supplier’s control seems to be very unreasonable, and it could be argued that the policy was pursued unreasonably in the hope and normal expectation that customers would not reject the purchase, the high transport charge being a deliberate deterrent in order to deny consumers their rights or make them unnecessarily difficult to exercise. I think you should write to the company along thse lines or consult Trading Standards [via Citizens Advice]. If the goods had already been wrapped and packed ready for shipping which was then stopped, the supplier might have a case for a proportionate payment to cover the preparation costs.

I placed an online order with the House of Fraser then needed to redirect the order which was not possible so I requested to cancel the order, I was told that this was not possible. At this point the package was still with HoF. I will now have to stand in a queue at a post office to return the items. House of Fraser have refused to recognise that I was entitled to cancel the order and constantly referred to their terms and conditions of sale.

The Consumer Rights Act gives you 14 days from receipt of goods to return them, if you don’t want them, without explanation. You may have to pay return carriage unless the contract stated otherwise. The CRA takes precedence over anyone’s conditions of sale. If the goods were still in HoF’s possession then they should have been able to stop delivery and avoid inconvenience. There are times when goods in transit cannot be stopped of course.

Hi i placed an order online. Part of the order came and when we opened it, it was damaged. I contacted the supplier immediately and said the product was damaged. I was accused of damaging the product and they were very rude, even hung up the phone on me. We continued our dispute via text and i was told i could not have a refund because i had caused the damage. I requested that they cancel the outstanding part of the order due to their rudeness as it had not been dispatched as yet. They text back that they could cancel the outstanding part of the order. I returned the damaged product and sent them an email informimg them of the return and for them to cancel the outstanding part if the order as agreed and to let me know when my funds would be returned. I had to raise a dispute with my credit card provider to get the money back for the damaged product and this has been done. No communication came back when i emailed them and it is definately their email as i got it from their communication of order. 9 days after cancellation the cancelled product arrived, delivery was refused. I emailed them and informed them that the delivery was rejected as it should never have come, it was cancelled 2 days after order ( I never received any info that it had been dispatched or that it was on its way as i did with the initial part of the order). I raised a dispute with my credit card supplier, however they said unless i have proof that the seller has the rejected product back they can not raise a dispute. Does anyone have any advise

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I placed an online order for some coffee pods, but due to delays in shipping from the company, I won’t be able to be home to take delivery now. The order was still in the processing stage with no sign of a delivery time, so a few days after the order I emailed them to cancel my order as their t&c’ state you have 14 days to cancel the order and told them I would not be able to be home for the delivery. They have emailed me back to say they are unable to cancel my order as the system is automated and I have to accept the order and return it if I don’t want it. How am I suppose to take the order when I’m not going to be home. The money has not been taken off my card fully yet and I don’t even have a shipping date yet, so I don’t understand why they can’t cancel the order.

The Consumer Rights Act says:
“10. 14 day right to cancel for goods bought at a distance or off-premises
If you sell goods to a consumer at a distance or off-premises (see above for further information on what distance and off-premises contracts are) then the consumer has a 14 calendar day period in which they may change their mind and cancel the contract (unless an exemption applies – see below) 6.
Note that this right for the consumer to return goods within 14 days is different and separate to their rights if the goods do not meet the requirements of the Consumer Rights Act. The consumer may use this 14 day cooling off period to cancel without giving a reason, if goods were bought off-premises or at a distance.
The 14 day period starts the day after the consumer, or someone selected by the consumer, receives the goods. Where different goods within an order are delivered at different times the cancellation period will run from the day after delivery of the last item. If the contract is for regular deliveries of goods during a defined period (more than a day), the period will run from the day after delivery of the first item.
Once the consumer has notified you that they wish to cancel the contract, they must return the goods to you without delay and within 14 days after that notification, unless you have offered to collect them or the contract was off-premises and the goods were delivered to the consumer’s home and could not normally be returned by post due to their nature.

If the goods have not been sent and are under the supplier’s control it would be sensible for them to cancel the order. If, however, they are in the delivery chain then you can reject them but pay for return delivery.