Cyber Monday Buyer Beware advice from Citizens Advice Image:Adobe Stock

More than 13,000 online marketplace purchases were reported to the Citizens Advice last year

Recent polling shows a staggering three quarters of UK adults now use online marketplaces. These are websites where traders and private individuals list and sell products.

As customers turn to online marketplaces to bag a bargain in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, Citizens Advice is warning people to be aware of the dangers.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“With millions of people trying to find a bargain online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, buyers need to beware when purchasing items through online marketplaces.

“Before clicking the buy button, it is really important people check the product information available otherwise they risk being left out-of-pocket.”

National Consumer Week 2018

This year’s National Consumer Week (26 November to 2 December) focuses on customer rights when they buy from an online marketplace.

Analysis of calls to the Citizens Advice consumer service found:

  • More than 13,000 people reported issues with online marketplaces last year, being hit by an average loss of £215
  • 50% of people who had problems, then had issues when they tried to resolve it
  • Calls about problems with purchases on online marketplaces have increased by 35% over the past 4 years

The research also highlights the importance of knowing whether you are buying from an individual seller or a business. Over 50% of customers didn’t know they have fewer rights when they buy from a private seller, compared to if they buy from a business.

If you buy from a private seller the principle of “buyer beware” applies. This means while the seller can’t misdescribe the item, they can omit information. For example, if a laptop is described as being a silver laptop in “excellent working condition” but it’s faulty, you could ask for your money back. But if “excellent working condition” is missing from the description, you won’t be able to.

In one case handled by the consumer service a woman bought two “Gucci children’s coats” off an online marketplace, only to spot reviews saying the coats were fake after she had paid.

The mother-of-two said:

“The coats arrived and I was absolutely devastated. They looked absolutely awful. They looked so cheap, smelt like wet dogs and looked nothing like the picture.”

She has a formal complaint in with the payment company about getting her money back.

Woman complaining by phone after shopping online Image: AdobeStock

Online shopping tips

As part of National Consumer Week, Citizens Advice and the Consumer Protection Partnership suggest that people check all the product information carefully before buying something on an online marketplace. They also recommend that shoppers take extra care, like reading previous reviews and saving screenshots of their purchases.

Lord Toby Harris, chair of National Trading Standards, said:

“National Trading Standards will continue its work to combat rogue traders who rip off consumers using these marketplaces, but we need the public to help us by making sure they are aware of the tell-tale signs an offer might be too good to be true.”

Here are Citizens Advice’s tips for using online marketplaces:

  • Check the product details
    • This should include: photos; a description; cost of the item; delivery charges; contact details for the seller; and any cancellation rights
    • It should also be clear if it’s being sold by a trader or private seller – this is important as your rights are different
    • It is wise to read previous reviews as these can often flag potential issues, but watch out for fake reviews. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is
  • Take screenshots of the item you want to buy
    • This will come in handy if the item you receive is different to what you saw on the website
  • Use a payment method that protects you
    • You’ll have a better chance of getting your money back if there’s a problem by using a card or Paypal, particularly if it’s an overseas seller. Avoid paying by bank transfer
  • Go back to the seller if there’s a problem
    • Explain what’s happened, how you’d like them to fix it and give a deadline for them to respond. If they don’t sort it out, see if there’s an alternative dispute resolution service that can help. Report them and the online marketplace to Trading Standards if you think the issue is unfair
  • Getting your money back from a private seller
    • The product description needs to be accurate, but if information is missing you won’t be able to ask for your money back
    • If the item doesn’t match the photos on the website, you may also have grounds to ask for your money back