When shopping online as a consumer, cooling-off a contract free of charge is often possible.
Information requirements for sellers
Purchases made in an onlineshop are called "distance selling" by law. The buyer and the seller do not see each other in person and you cannot hold the item in your hands. Thus, a trader has to inform a consumer buying in his onlineshop about the following facts before you are bound by the distance contract:
- the identity of the trader, such as his trading name and his geographical address (no postbox!)
- the main characteristics of the goods or services
- the price of the item including all taxes
- delivery costs
- details of the payment and the delivery
- the existing of a right of withdrawal, unless in those cases where, as an exception, a consumer is not entitled to cooling-off
Confirmation after conclusion of contract
It is not sufficient if a trader mentioned these information criteria on his website before you place your order. He has to submit this information to you on a durable medium (letter, email, CD) at the time of delivery latest.
Additionally, the seller has to explain the conditions for a withdrawal of the contract and provide information on his customer service, a possible commercial guarantee and possible terms of termination.
In case a trader does not provide this information correctly the contract is not automatically void. However, it may be that you can contest the contract due to misleading information. Anyways, you have a longer cooling-off period in case of lack of information.
Right to withdrawal
The general rule is that you are bound by a contract and cannot quit it without the other party’s agreement. When shopping online this is different.
Since the buyer and the seller do not meet in a shop in person the buyer cannot inspect the goods or hold them in his hands before purchase. Eventually, he realizes just after the delivery that the item is not as he imagined it to be.
Hence, the European law offers a right to withdrawal in many cases of e-commerce. Cooling-off is also possible if you ordered online but picked-up the goods in the trader’s shop.
Be careful, a right to withdrawal can only exist if you bought goods for your private use and the seller is a company, not a private person.
14 days cooling-off period
- A withdrawal of the contract can be declared within 14 days.
- The time period start with the delivery of the parcel but the actual day of delivery does not count. e.g.: delivery on 01/01/2015 – end of cooling-off period 01/15/2015
- The period is extended for another 12 months if a trader has not complied with the information requirements and his duty to confirm the order. However, if the seller provides the relevant information within 12 months the 14 days cooling-off period starts with that date.
Written declaration of withdrawal
- A withdrawal of a contract has to be made in writing – no exception. Best option would be a registered letter.
- You do not need to mention reasons for your withdrawal
- It is sufficient to submit the declaration of withdrawal on the last day of the time period (14 days) to the trader.
- Make sure to keep a copy of your letter and the postal receipt.
Exceptions from the right to withdrawal
In some cases a consumer does not have the right to cool-off a contract free of charge, even if the order was made online. This applies to contracts with the following content:
- services if the performance has begun with the consumer’s prior express consent, and with the acknowledgement that he will lose his right of withdrawal once the contract has been fully performed by the trader (e.g. you order a feebased horoscope and already received you’re your request);
- the supply of goods or services for which the price is dependent on fluctuations in the financial market which cannot be controlled by the trader (e.g. noble metal);
- the supply of goods made to the consumer’s specifications or clearly personalized (e.g. tailor-made clothes, furniture produced according to your individual request and measurement);
- the supply of goods which according to their nature are not suitable to be returned, deteriorate rapidly or where the date of expiry is over (e.g. groceries);
- the supply of sealed audio or sealed video recordings or sealed computer software which were unsealed after delivery;
- the supply of a newspaper, periodical or magazine with the exception of subscription contracts for the supply of such publications;
- catering (e.g. pizza delivery service) or services related to leisure activities (e.g. booking of flights, hotel rooms, package travel or concert tickets);
- the supply of digital content (e.g. software download) which is not supplied on a tangible medium if the performance has begun with the consumer’s prior express consent and his acknowledgment that he thereby loses his right of withdrawal.
- contracts on urgent repairs or maintenance where the consumer has specifically requested a visit from the trader for the purpose of carrying out these services.
Effects of withdrawal
After withdrawing from an online-purchase you have to send back the item to the seller. You only have to bear the direct cost of returning the goods unless the trader has agreed to bear them or the trader failed to inform you as a consumer have to pay for the returning. Check the terms and conditions!
The seller on the other hand has to reimburse all payments received from you: the price of the article as well as costs for the warapping and the delivery to you.
If you used the ordered good before cooling-off the contract and returning it, the seller is entitled to charge you for any diminished value of the goods. Thus, you do not get a full refund.
The more you used the item, the more traces of usage became visible, the less the trader has to reimburse. If, on the other hand, you just opened the parcel and tested the item in order to examine the characteristics and functioning of the good the trader has to refund the full purchase price!