/ Shopping, Technology

Disappointing downloads – are our refund rights good enough?

Have you ever tried to get your money back on a music download, ebook, software download or app? Because when it comes to getting a refund on digital downloads, we may be at the mercy of the seller.

Getting your money back on a download is something of a grey area. The Sale of Goods Act and Distance Selling Regulations, which cover high street and online purchases, are more than 10 years old so it’s not surprising they don’t specifically cater for downloads. So, do we need download-specific shopping rights?

Current refund terms for downloads

Whether downloads are considered to be goods or services, if they don’t work properly you should be entitled to a refund or replacement. Download sellers are likely to account for this in their terms and conditions. For example, iTunes’ terms say:

‘You do not have the right to withdraw from a transaction once delivery of the product has started at which point your transaction is final.’

However, if you’ve received an unacceptably poor download the terms state that if it cannot be resolved ‘a refund may be provided’. So hopefully, this is good enough to ensure buyers aren’t coming up against any opposition when it comes to faulty downloads.

The danger of instant downloads

Downloads are instant and potentially some could be copied quite quickly. So if Distance Selling Regulations were to be applied fully, we’d have seven days to copy a download before we’d have to return it for a refund.

CDs and DVDs bought in shops are often non-refundable if you’ve broken the seal on the case, so not being able to return a music download isn’t far removed from the in-store shopping experience.

But what if you’ve accidentally downloaded a song twice, or downloaded the wrong item and you only realised once the download started? Depending on the seller’s terms you may not be able to get a refund even if you haven’t listened to it yet – the equivalent of not breaking the seal on CD packaging.

Download dissatisfaction

There are other examples too. What if you’re simply dissatisfied with a download or it doesn’t do what its description said it would? If you’ve paid for an app that turns out to be disappointing – where do you stand? I’m sure many of us have written off small amounts of money we’ve spent on a rubbish app.

Google’s Android Market previously gave buyers a “no questions asked” 24-48 hours to return an app, but that’s since been reduced to just 15 minutes. Then again, is it even right for someone to ask for a refund just because they found it “disappointing”? Perhaps we should be given the chance to try before we buy, so that we don’t find ourselves spending money on something we didn’t want in the first place?

We’re investigating and want to hear about your download experiences, particularly if you’ve had cause for a refund.

If download retailers are already serving consumers well, that’s great, but if you’re losing money on disappointing downloads there needs to be some protection.

Have you ever been disappointed with a digital download you’ve bought?

I’ve never paid for a download (33%, 139 Votes)

Yes – but I didn’t do anything about it (27%, 115 Votes)

No - I’ve only had good experiences (24%, 101 Votes)

Yes – and I was refused a refund (8%, 36 Votes)

Yes – and I received a refund (8%, 35 Votes)

Total Voters: 427

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I was going to ask for a refund for the Good Beer Guide 2011 app, which kept freezing. Before I got round to doing this, an update was released. This works perfectly. The next update was the 2012 version, at no extra cost.

It should be possible to get refunds for faulty apps, though most people are not going to bother if the cost is small. It is probably better to read the reviews and get recommendations from users.

A related area is items which depend heavily on software ( probably firmware) for functionality.
Is the software a completely separate item from the hardware with different T&Cs.
When a software upgrade is provided , maybe to fix a fault ( bug), and it causes new problems what are your rights ?

We are not necessarily talking about computer items but items like TVs, set-top boxes etc.

Steve says:
25 October 2011

I bought a historic recording of complete opera download from Amazon. One track had a jump in it, and after checking their copy, they refunded more than the cost of the track, which I was able to replace from I-Tunes. I have always found Amazon exceptionally good at handling problems with purchases – and this time was no exception.

James says:
28 October 2011

I agree with Steve, that Amazon does do a great job of dealing with returns and exchanges on all things brought and sold either from Amazon themselves or by the marketplace in most cases.

If the app doesn’t work right or causes problems and or issues, yes you should be able to get a refund no matter it’s a dollar or ten dollars spent on said app. For music and or video downloads now that is basically at your own risk for most sites and services as I see it. Now if the song file does have a skip or missing a section most sites it’s once purchased thats it no refunds or exchanges on digital items, you see that a lot at Gamestop and or EB Games.

I do agree with the try before buy policy a lot, which is why I like how some e-book selling sites online will let you read a chapter or two, and for Amazon Appstore you can test drive some apps via the web page.

I do agree if a App is faulty or just doesn’t do what the description or promise the developer has given you should be given a full refund. The new digital download era is great but for businesses it’s even better to offer it digitally and say well you downloaded it so at your own risk and it seems most companies have this kinda mind set.

As a gamer both on PC and console I can say that downloading DLC or games is kinda At Your Own Risk, you have to make sure your hardware can run said program and go from there. Now for my console side it’s different if my DLC doesn’t work or heaven forbid corrupts game data most developers will issue on case by case basis a fix or refund in most cases. I will say that if you do download a game or DLC on PC and from a good source on most times they will issue a refund but void the license to the game so you can’t claim it’s broke and still play it and make out like a champ. At the same time this could be used for apps as well, I would guess when you buy a app a license .txt or unlock must follow the content and they could issue a refund and just void the license so they know it’s not working or being used when money has been returned.

In short you do have a right to a refund if your download is faulty or can’t be used in the manner it was described. As far as it being disappointing well thats just what reviews are for in that respect I mean honestly I have gotten some apps that all raved about and for me were just junk, they worked and downloaded fine but just didn’t do what I needed it to do or was just crap.

Martin says:
28 October 2011

To be fair to iTunes, I downloaded a file that wouldn’t play and they were quick to refund my credit and let me try again.

Also, my account was hacked and over £10.00-worth of credit spent without my authorisation (i.e. stolen!). Again, iTunes Support were very responsive and supportive and, again, were willing to restore the lost credit, although they did state that this was a “special case” and not something they had to do.

I can see, though, that as consumers we are at the mercy of the download issuers. I think it pays to be honest with and nice to them!

Scragglygoat says:
28 October 2011

I downloaded Numbers for Mac from iTunes (£14), wanting to evaluate the Forms feature I saw advertised. If it worked as I hoped I would buy an iPad with Numbers on to help me out at work. When I got it I found that Forms are absent from the Mac version, Apples said they couldn’t do anything as iTunes is a separate entity, and I’m waiting to hear back from iTunes.

As I wanted it specifically to evaluate an advertised feature that it turned out not to have I really think they should offer a refund. I have no use for the app, I already have Excel for Mac which has a wider range of features than Numbers anyway.

While I am delighted that I can view Excel spreadsheets on an iPad without any additional software, there are some problems.

It takes a lot to beat a laptop or desktop computer, though the technology is developing fast.

James says:
29 October 2011

As I am in the US it’s unfair for my last comment as Katie pointed out its only in the US we have the Amazon Appstore and test drive feature.

But the Try before you buy could and can work, as on the PSN we have full game trials now via PS+ membership which I have, in it you can play the full game for up to 60 mins and then at the end of that decide if you want to purchase it or not.

Simple to add this to most apps, a what 12 hour or 24 hour trial of the app and if you like it you have to purchase it or just delete it. This would work and I don’t see it being to hard to add the trial or time limit to a app. I mean I am lucky that a lot of the apps I like have a lite version which means it comes with ads so you can still get a feel for it and all then if you really like it and don’t want ads in your face you can buy it ad free then.

I have had a friend buy an app and it not work at all, they didn’t offer a refund either when he talked to tech support and he was just out 3 bucks but still I felt it wasn’t right it clearly didn’t work and should have refunded the money in good faith.

Some months ago I bought online a virus protection programme for my dsektop. It took ages to download and instal, and when it was finally finished my machine was unuseably slow. I had to uninstal the programme to get in touch with the supplier. After two or three Emails between us it transpired I had insufficient RAM to run the programme properly. Having assured the supplier thatI had uninstalled it I was immediately given a refund. The whole episode from beginning to end took less than 4 hours. I complimented them on their service.

Theresa says:
13 March 2012

I know this article was published in Oct 2011 but unfortunately being digitally robbed online is still happening. I am based in South Africa. I bought an online GPS mobile phone app from QITlabs http://www.whereareyougps.com sold by the AXTIA TECHNOLOGIES company in Jan 2012. The app does not work. I have tried contacting the developer but they do not reply. Paypal cannot help get me a refund as the product is digital. Paypal continues to support and provide a money laundering
platform for developers that can sell defective software without being
held responsible. It’s not a large sum of money but I can kiss my $15.90USD goodbye as there is nothing I can do. It would cost more than $16USD to send them a letter from my lawyer. I only want to warn others of this trap becareful buying apps or “services” online, you are NOT protected even if there is Distant Selling Regulations!

Mands says:
22 January 2014

In Jan 13 I subscribed to a 1-year Shape Up App (now called Life Sum) via iTunes £24.99; At 10pm today (22 Jan 2014) , i received an email from iTunes, that the 1-year subscription has auto-renewed and I’ve been charged £24.99 again! I do not use the App anymore and do not want another year subscription (The App was redesigned mid year and I no longer like it). There seems to be no way to cancel this 1year sub, even within an hour of billing!) Help!!! Surely ‘distance selling’ gives me some recourse for the charge to be reversed?

Tom says:
7 June 2014

I needed a video chatroom for wordpress and saw http://www.prochatrooms.com and it looked ok.

However after paying nearly £90 for it and emailing them they ignored me. I emaied for DAYS. They ignored me. I sent them the install details they ignored me.

Finally i started a claim at paypal. How very convenient they started fighting it then they escalated it after saying we dont have to refund as its digital.

Naturally ive gone elsewhere tio get better service and not be ignored.

Paypal found in their favour as its a digital download despite me not being able to use it as they need to licence it.

So ive lost nearly £90 and been completely had.

There needs to be better protection for digital downloads especially downloads you cannot use.

I am now talking these people to tradings standards and small claims court.

elizabeth roberts says:
23 September 2014

on 30th August I downloaded a free trial app for SplashID. When I received my credit card statement in September I saw that there was an ITunes charge that I did not recognise. I checked my account and found that there was the record of the free SplashID charge but that I had also been charged for a WiFi splashID app that I did not download and do not want. When I contacted SplashID they said that I should revery yo iTunes for a refund but iTunes say that they do not issue a refund! stalemate. I do not know how or why a chargeable app was downloaded at the same time as the free trial app. If neither the seller or the interface (ITunes) offer refunds when this sort of thing happens, then there is an incentive to package free items with charge items and no incentive to ensure that this sort of thing cannot happen. I am out of pocket £20.99 and I feel short changed. I don’t want to touch iTunes at all for any purchases but its pretty difficult with an Apple pc. I don’t know how to get round this problem at all.