Be a Careful Online Shopper this Christmas!

With Christmas looking a little different this year due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, consumer affairs regulators are advising Australians to be alert to changes in the market when shopping and making bookings online.

“When looking at buying presents online, or booking holidays, consumers should be aware that COVID-19 is still prevalent, and there are extra things to keep in mind when checking out,” said Ms Sandy Otto, Acting Commissioner of NT Consumer Affairs.

“Terms and conditions matter more than ever. Check if businesses have extra COVID-19 policies in place. These do not replace the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), but could include how they respond to a change of mind purchase,” they said.

Your consumer rights apply when buying a product or service, regardless of whether it is on sale, or even during a pandemic. But if a consumer changes their mind about a purchase, businesses do not have to provide a refund or replacement. Some businesses may have a change of mind policy, which they must honour, but check if these have changed, e.g. for hygiene reasons.

While deliveries may be delayed this year, you are entitled to a remedy if your product never arrives. Contact the business to resolve the issues in the first instance.

The other key online transaction that is being anticipated is Australians booking holidays.

“While we are looking forward to safe holidays, we must be aware that the health situation could change rapidly,” said Ms Sandy Otto.

If a customer cancels a booking before restrictions are enforced, they are effectively changing their mind about the purchase. The business would not be obliged to provide a refund on deposits or payments made.

“It means if a border closes and you can’t make your booking, you need to know what you are entitled to. Read those terms and conditions, and contact the business if circumstances change.”

Consider purchasing travel insurance if you are uncertain about whether change of mind refunds will be provided, and check with your insurer about what is covered under the policy before you purchase.

For more information on COVID-19 issues affecting consumers, see the ACCC's information here.