Step 1: know your rights
Goods you buy online must meet ‘consumer guarantees’.
When you receive the goods, or after you use the goods, you may find they do not meet a consumer guarantee. In this case, the seller may have to provide a replacement, refund, or repair.
For more information on the consumer guarantees, view our Consumer guarantees section.
Note: specific laws apply to online auctions of vehicles and property. For more information, view our Motor cars section and Buying and selling property section.
What kind of remedy are you entitled to?
It depends if the problem is major or minor. For a major problem – it cannot be fixed, or would take too long or is too difficult to fix – you can:
- return the item and choose a refund or exchange, or
- keep the item and the seller will compensate you for any drop in value.
For a minor problem – it can be fixed within a reasonable time – the seller must:
- repair it within a reasonable time, or
- give you a refund or exchange.
When you are NOT entitled to seek a refund
If there is no breach of an implied condition – for example, if you:
- changed your mind
- ordered the wrong item
- found the goods cheaper elsewhere
- were aware of the relevant fault before buying the goods
- damaged the goods by misusing them.
Note: you may also not be able to seek a remedy if you do not have a receipt or other proof of purchase.
In some of these situations, the seller may choose to provide a remedy. Check the seller’s website or page to see if they have their own refunds or returns policy – they may have a ‘cooling-off period’ that allows you to return the goods within a certain time.
If a seller advertises that they have their own refund or returns policy, they must comply with the terms of their policy.
Note: although consumer guarantees apply to both new and second-hand goods, it may not be reasonable for you to expect second-hand goods to last as long or perform as well as new goods.
If your goods go missing or have been damaged in transit, the delivery service (rather than the seller) may be responsible. Contact either the courier company or Australia Post. If they do not resolve your issue, you can contact the Postal Industry Ombudsman.
Step 2: contact the seller
Before you contact the seller to negotiate a solution, ensure you have the following records:
- order confirmation and receipt
- proof of payment
- date the goods were due to arrive
- seller’s refund policy (if any).
Keep copies of all correspondence with the seller.
Note: if you bought from an auction house like eBay or Grays Online, your contract of sale is with the seller rather than the auction house. Contact the seller directly.
Use our complaint email template:
Returning goods to the seller
When you return goods to a seller, you must pay postage or shipping costs.
The seller must outline how much it will cost you to return the goods. You can then choose whether to pay the return costs, or keep the goods.
If you cannot easily return the goods to the seller, or return costs are significant – for example, if you were returning a wide screen TV or bed – the seller must pay for postage or collect the goods themselves. However, this only applies to goods with a major fault.
Once the seller has the goods, they will assess the fault and provide you with the appropriate remedy. If the goods have a major or minor fault, you have the right to recover the return costs in the form of compensation from the seller. If you have not paid return costs already and the goods are faulty, the seller should waive these costs.
Step 3: seek assistance
If the seller does not resolve your issue, what you do next will depend on how you bought the goods.
||What to do
You paid via credit card
Contact your provider to organise a chargeback (this effectively reverses the credit card charge, and is similar to a refund). Act quickly; many credit card providers have short deadlines (for example, 60 days) for lodging a chargeback request. Chargebacks can take up to one year to be finalised.
You bought from an auction house
Most auction houses have a dispute resolution service. For example, you can report an issue to eBay’s Resolution Centre between 10 and 45 days after the purchase date.
You can also post feedback about the seller on the auction site to warn the auction house and other potential buyers.
You paid via online cash transfer
Payment systems such as PayPal may offer dispute resolution services. For example, you can file a dispute through PayPal's Online Dispute Resolution Centre within 45 days of paying for the goods.
If you used an instant cash transfer system (such as Western Union or MoneyGram) or if you deposited your money directly into the seller's bank account, it can be very difficult to track your money once the seller has collected it. In this case, you should contact the police who may be able to assist.
Step 4: take your complaint further
If the steps above do not resolve your issue, who you contact next will depend on:
- whether the seller is a private individual or running an online business
- where the seller is located.
To check which country the seller’s website was registered in, enter the address in Whois lookup - ausregistry website.
|Type of seller
||Who to contact
Online business based in Australia
This can range from a large company such as Myer or Coles online, to a smaller business such as a jeweller with an online store.
This can also be a seller conducting their business on an online auction house, such as eBay. The seller is most likely running an online business if, for example, they:
- list an ABN or company name in their advertising
- have a high volume of items for sale or have been trading for a number of years.
Contact Consumer Affairs Victoria:
- make a complaint
- call our Information Line 1300 55 81 81 between 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (except public holidays)
- visit our walk-in service centre (the Victorian Consumer & Business Centre, 113 Exhibition Street, Melbourne) between 8:30 am - 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (except public holidays)
- find an office near you.
Private individual based in Australia
When you buy from a private individual seller who is not running an online business, this is called a consumer-to-consumer transaction.
Examples include a man selling his golf clubs on Gumtree website, or a woman selling her dress on eBay.
Consumer Affairs Victoria cannot resolve disputes arising from consumer-to-consumer sales.
You can seek independent legal advice, or make a claim for compensation to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) under the Civil Claims List.
Going to VCAT is easier if the seller is based in Victoria – otherwise, you may need to lodge a claim with the tribunal in the state where the seller lives.
Examples include a Hong Kong business selling watches on eBay, or a man from the US selling a book on Amazon.
As the seller is overseas, it is difficult for Consumer Affairs Victoria or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to resolve disputes.
- contact the government body responsible for consumer protection in the seller’s country
- file a complaint at econsumer.gov
Last updated: 26/05/2013