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Know your online shopping rights

Online shoppers have the same rights as brick-and-mortar shoppers. We consider the regulations protecting these consumers, and actions to take in a breach.

14 February 2023 · Helen Ueckermann

Know your online shopping rights

Online shoppers enjoy the same consumer rights as brick-and-mortar shoppers, and attract additional rights, as noted in the consumer protection act.

However, rights enforcement relies not only on authorities, but also on consumer awareness. We consider the regulations protecting online shoppers, and the actions you can take in the event of a breach.

Tip: Optimise your shopping experience with a safe and convenient online credit facility.

Problems most often encountered

There are three main obstacles online shoppers encounter, says Trudie Broekmann, a Cape-based commercial, corporate and consumer law attorney.

"Shoppers may pay for a product that is never delivered. When they try to enquire from the supplier, they can't get hold of them,” Broekmann says.

"Alternatively, goods delivered may differ from what the shopper expected. For instance, the items may be too small, inoperative, or counterfeit.  

"Finally,” Broekmann notes, “shoppers often struggle with website technical glitches. Sites may become unresponsive, especially when payment is going through. This is typical during peak purchasing times, such as Black Friday sales."

Basic consumer rights

Your best protection, as an online consumer, is to know your rights and understand that you are entitled to enforce them.

In South Africa, e-commerce transactions are regulated by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002 (ECTA), the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA), and the Bill of Rights.

The purpose of ECTA is to provide a safe, secure and effective environment for consumers and businesses to conduct and use electronic transactions. The CPA promotes fairness, openness, and good business practices between suppliers of goods and services, and their customers. The Bill of Rights outlines the human rights of all South African residents.

In terms of these acts, you have the right not to be misled by the supplier, says Broekmann.

“For example, the delivered product must match the website's description and photo. If not, you can return the goods at the supplier's expense, within ten days. The supplier must refund the consumer once the goods are received.”

Broekmann notes further, “If the goods are returned in the original unopened packaging, you are entitled to a full refund.

“If the goods are returned in their original condition and repackaged in their original packaging, the supplier may deduct a reasonable amount for the use of the goods – unless these are goods that are depleted by use and it’s clear they have not been used.

“Finally, if the goods are returned without their packaging, the supplier can deduct a reasonable amount for repackaging the goods and restoring them to a condition in which they can be sold again.”

As a consumer, you also have the right to hold false advertisers to account. If, for example, an item is sold out, but it's not clearly marked as such, and you go ahead with a purchase, you are entitled to an identical or better-quality product; or your money back, plus interest, and a refund for any expenses you incurred.

Furthermore, a supplier must provide you with a sales record with their full details, including their name, VAT number and contact particulars, along with the date, price, taxes, description of the goods and quantity.

While these rights also apply to traditional shopping, a few additional rights apply when you buy online, says Broekmann.

"The supplier must disclose their registration number, sales record information, the currency that applies, full details of the delivery arrangements, cancellation, return and refund policies, and mechanisms should you need to make a complaint.”

Broekmann notes that many online retailers don't comply with this requirement. She says that you can report any offending retailers to the National Consumer Commission at

Be informed

Always read reviews about online retailers before shopping with them, Broekmann recommends. Don't take a risk if consumers complain about the quality of the items or the returns process, and avoid the site altogether if there are claims that it’s a scam. Fake websites typically have URLs similar to a brand they're trying to copy, for instance, "".

Broekmann says it's generally safer to buy from South African sites. Do note, however, that warnings have been issued by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority against online retailers Viagogo, Mr Shopper, Wiegenkind Boutique, Ana Eleven and Liepies Online.

Steps to take when problems occur

When you don’t receive the service you are entitled to, you can take the following steps:

Track the supplier down. It can be hard to track dishonest retailers down. Start by using Google search, to see whether other shoppers offer advice or contact details. Social media sites, such as Facebook, provide an alternative means for reaching out.

Insist on a refund. You are entitled to receive the delivery at the agreed time, or, if there was no agreement with the online retailer about the delivery time, within a reasonable period after the transaction - usually within about ten days. In the event that this doesn’t occur, you can insist on a full refund, provided you have first followed up with the supplier.

In respect of the latter, Broekmann suggests writing an email that includes the transaction details, and notes the problem; whether non-delivery, an incorrect item, or inferior quality; your bank details, and a firm request for a full refund within two business days.

Take the matter further. If you don't receive a refund, you can lodge a complaint via the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud.

Top tips for online shoppers

Magauta Mphahlele, consumer goods and services ombud, offers the following tips to ensure a positive online shopping experience.

  • Make sure you make use of trusted and familiar retailers.
  • Read the terms and conditions of the retailer to ensure they comply with the ECTA and CPA.
  • Familiarise yourself with the delivery period, as some items are imported and can take longer to be delivered.
  • Online transactions are regulated by ECTA, which provides a cooling-off period. Make sure you stick to the time frame provided to return the bought items.
  • Keep all documents safe. If your deal is telephonic, record the time, date, reference numbers and the person you spoke to.

To this, Broekmann adds:

  • Never pay by instant EFT. If you type in your passcode details, you are disclosing them to the online retailer, which your bank prohibits you from doing. If there's fraud on your account as a result, your bank will not come to your rescue, and you could be cleaned out.
  • If it's an overseas website, carefully check the rand equivalent of the price in the billing currency, confirm that they can deliver to you, and check the delivery fee. Be sure to consider import duties and fees, and check that these are included.
  • When goods you've ordered online are delivered, be sure to use the goods within the next ten days, so that you can return them within the deadline if necessary. Keep the packaging in case you need to return your purchase within any applicable warranty period.

Tip:  Online shopping is safer with a credit facility than via EFT. Click here for more

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