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Wayback Machine

What you need to know before you buy online and your rights with online sales, privacy policies, daily deal and group buying websites.

Take care when shopping online

A website can be a very handy way to shop. But it’s harder to judge the quality of a product or business. It’s also harder to sort out problems if the purchase goes wrong. Your rights when you shop or buy online are the same as when you buy from a shop, but there are some differences, such as forming a binding contract electronically.

Read Electronic contracts and e-signatures to find out more.

Some common issues with buying online include:

  • the seller not sending you the goods or delivering them late
  • the seller sending you products that are of lesser value or different from their description
  • the seller giving you misleading information about a product or the terms of sale (or not including vital information)
  • exchange rates and delivery costs making the products more expensive than you expected.

Tips to protect yourself

You can take some simple steps to protect yourself online: research websites before you buy, make sure the payment method is secure, and watch out for scams.

Some other things you can do:

  • avoid impulse shopping, especially with daily-deal sites
  • read online feedback – but remember this feedback may not be genuine
  • shop around – compare prices and conditions
  • work out the total cost including any delivery charge, administrative fee, tax, duty or foreign exchange rate
  • be wary of offers that appear too good to be true – check our website for common scams
  • keep your personal data secure – check the website’s privacy policy
  • you can’t import some things from overseas – check the Customs website for prohibited imports
  • monitor children’s access – some businesses market directly to children
  • avoid pyramid schemes – they are illegal (be wary of network marketing, chain letters, ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes and home-based employment opportunities)
  • use a reputable intermediary site such as Amazon, so you can contact them if the trader is not responding to your queries.

Be sure to read the privacy terms and conditions if you buy online. These will tell you how the retailer will use your personal information.


Secure payment and credit card chargebacks

Only use your credit/debit card to pay online if the business uses a secure payment system – you’ll see a padlock icon in the window of your browser (but not in the webpage itself). Some credit card companies will allow a transaction to be reversed if a charge is made to your card and you dispute this charge. This is called a credit card chargeback.

Paying by online banking is less secure. You don't have any comeback if things go wrong. Keep a record of all your purchases and keep all your receipts.

See also:

Know your rights

Your rights when you shop online depend on whether you are buying products or services from:

  • a trader in New Zealand
  • an overseas trader
  • a private seller on an online auction site, such as Trade Me or eBay.

Check the terms and conditions before you buy online including returns, delivery, warranties etc.

Buying online from a business based in New Zealand

The guarantees under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) apply when you buy online from a business based in New Zealand. If you have problems with a faulty product, you can get a remedy from the seller.

Read Faulty products to find out more.

Under the Fair Trading Act (FTA), online sellers must clearly disclose to you if they are selling in trade. Trade sellers often have these identifying features:

  • they regularly offer to sell products or services online
  • they make or buy products with the intention of selling them
  • they have staff or assistants or automated orders to deal with orders
  • they are GST registered; have a business logo, website and brochures; or are a registered company.

Read the Commerce Commission’s factsheet Buying and selling online(external link) to find out more.

You can claim compensation or cancel the purchase under the FTA, if any auction website operators or online traders mislead you or make false representations about their products or services.

Not all online traders hold stock. They will source it once an order has been placed. They need to make this clear online. They must have a reasonable basis to believe that they can meet the order as it is promoted, or they may be in breach of the FTA.

When you buy from a business online and they arrange delivery, they're responsible for the products arriving on time and undamaged.

Buying from daily-deal or group-buying websites

You have the same rights as when you buy from any other online business. Common problems include: the products have not arrived, they can’t take your booking, and the supplier is blaming the daily-deal site and the daily-deal site is blaming the supplier.

If you have a problem, you can ask either the discount site or the supplier to put it right. If the discount site says that you have to sort it out with the business, they may be breaching the FTA by misleading you about your rights.

Often vouchers will have an expiry date. If you can’t redeem the voucher before this date, you can ask for the service to be provided later. If a business takes a payment without intending to provide a service, this is a breach of the FTA.

Read Gift vouchers and laybys to find out more.

Buying online from an overseas business

You have fewer legal rights if you buy from an overseas trader online. New Zealand law will not apply. Check the trader’s website for their terms and conditions including their return, exchange or refund policies, complaints process, and any laws that apply when you buy from them.

You are not covered by the CGA, but you may have rights under the FTA if they are selling into New Zealand. However, it’s harder to resolve problems.

If you pay by credit card, you may be able to apply for a ‘chargeback' if the products you have ordered don’t arrive. A chargeback is when a transaction is reversed by your bank.

Other things to be aware of:

  • Exchanges, repairs and refunds take longer and may be more difficult to negotiate.
  • Import duties and restrictions may apply – see NZ Customs website for more information.
  • The products may be more expensive once delivery costs are included and the price is converted into New Zealand dollars.

Buying from a private seller

If you’re buying from a private seller at online auction sites such as Trade Me, the Consumer Guarantees Act and Fair Trading Act don’t apply. You have the same rights as if it was a private sale.

Read Buying privately and second-hand to find out more.

Privacy issues

When you browse online, retailers can collect lots of personal information without you knowing by using cookies, even if you don’t buy anything. Your privacy settings on the internet can be set to choose which cookies are stored. You may also be able to opt out on the website. The Privacy Act 1993 prevents the use of your personal details without your consent.

Most websites and online retailers will have published a privacy policy on their site. It’s important to read these policies carefully. They will help you understand how your information will be used.

A privacy policy should include:

  • what information a website or online retailer will collect from you, eg your name and email address — if they store more sensitive details like your credit card number, consider shopping elsewhere.
  • how your information will be used, eg to manage your online account or to target ads to you on other websites.
  • if your information will be stored and for how long — some retailers will only store your details to complete your purchase, while others may keep it long after you’ve deleted your online account.
  • how they will protect your information.
  • if and how they will share your information — some retailers share or sell personal data to third-parties or businesses overseas.
  • how you can find and correct your information.
  • how you can contact them if you have a privacy question or complaint.

Spam is electronic commercial messages that are sent to you that you haven’t requested. For anti-spam measures, the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 may apply.

See the Department of Internal Affairs website(external link) for more information.

Contact the seller first to try and resolve any issues

First negotiate with the seller if:

  • you have been misled
  • the products or services are faulty or unsafe
  • the seller did not have the right to sell those products.

Read Resolve a problem to find out more.

Try to resolve the dispute directly with the seller. If you can’t contact them, use the website’s dispute resolution process if this is available.

If it’s a daily-deal site, tell them and the business that they’re equally responsible for providing a remedy. If they don’t fix the issue, you can take both the business and the daily-deal site to the Disputes Tribunal at the same time.

Place feedback on the website about the seller so others are aware of any problems. Provide fair feedback and accurately describe any issues or problems with the sale.

Next steps

If you are unable to resolve your issue directly with the seller, our Resolve It tool has information to help you take the next steps. These may include going to the Disputes Tribunal or District Court.

Resolve it: Faulty products and services

Resolve it: Scams

Resolve it: Spam and direct marketing

Need more help?

Contact us for more guidance.

Common situations

Daily deals

A travel agent offered a special holiday package deal to Hawaii on a daily-deal site. He knew that the offer was only available to the first 10 customers but did not make this clear in the terms and conditions. When the daily deal had finished, over 100 customers had bought it. The travel agent must honour those deals or he will be in breach of the Fair Trading Act, as he has misled the public.

No delivery. Ask for a chargeback

Grant is delighted to find a website that sells cheap trumpets from China. He places an order on the website, including delivery within two weeks. His order is confirmed by email and he then pays with his credit card. After four weeks, there is no delivery and he tries to contact the seller. He has no success with the contact details and contacts his bank to ask for a chargeback as the seller has not contacted him.

Being scammed

John gets a text message about tickets to a rock concert that are available from a private seller via a Facebook page. He messages the seller and buys two tickets. When he tries to go to the concert he finds out the tickets are fake. The Facebook page is no longer up when he tries to get in touch and the text number is not working. John realises he has been scammed so he gets in touch with Scamwatch to warn others and is annoyed at losing money.