/ Shopping

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?


Hi Suzi. Under the DSR I’m afraid the retailer is only liable to pay for return postage costs, and refund initial postage costs, if you cancel your order before it is delivered to you. If your goods are faulty the retailer must also pay for return postage costs.

Once your goods have been delivered I’m afraid you usually have to pay these costs. Some retailers, like ASOS for example, offer free delivery and will pay return postage costs if you want to cancel your order. However this is part of their returns policy and is a ‘good will’ gesture, it is not dictated as part of the DSR. It’s always work checking the returns policy before you buy as some retailers are much better than others when it comes to returns and associated costs.

In terms of cancelling your order, I do think that you have to cancel it whole. This is because if you accept some parts of the order the delivery costs will still stand. But you should still be able to return the parts you don’t want.

Hope this answers your questions.