Everything you need to know about online shopping and consumers’ rights

Everything you need to know about online shopping and consumers’ rights

Many of us have made a regrettable online purchase in the spur of the moment, or received online purchased goods that was disappointing in real life.

What most people are not aware of, is that they have recourse in terms of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002 (ECTA). One of the many objects of ECTA is to regulate electronic communications and transactions.

A cooling off period for online purchases

Section 44 of ECTA enables a consumer to cancel a transaction (and related credit agreement) for the supply of goods without penalty within 7 calendar days of receipt of the goods. There are the obvious exclusions including but not limited to goods that can deteriorate/expire rapidly, food or goods intended for everyday consumption, magazines, newspapers, books; or customised goods that are made to specifications. The only cost the consumer may be held liable for in such instances, is the cost of returning the goods to the supplier.

The above is generally referred to as a ‘cooling off period’. This cooling off period might save a marriage if a husband thought that golf set of a few thousand rand was a good idea and his wife totally disagrees. It is important to note that a supplier is supposed to disclose the fact that a consumer has a cooling off period if entering into an electronic transaction.

What consumers must know when making online purchases

Other important things which a supplier should inform the consumer of when concluding an electronic transaction, is listed in Section 43 of the ECTA and include but is not limited to:

  1. The time period within which the goods will be dispatched/delivered.
  2. The return, refund and exchange policy of the particular supplier.
  3. The terms of the agreement.
  4. A sufficient description of the main characteristics of the goods.
  5. The full price of the goods, including transport costs, taxes and any other and all costs.

Thus, if you are itching to spend money it is advisable to browse a supplier’s terms and conditions before buying online goods to ensure you make an enlightened purchase.

Your personal information when shopping online

One of the most annoying parts of online orders is that you submit your personal information when making a purchase often including your email address, and some suppliers automatically add you to their mailing list(s) for marketing purposes. The ECTA makes provision for the fact that the supplier should provide you with an option to be removed from their mailing list and that they should disclose, upon request, the name (source) of the person who provided them with your personal information.

Online shopping and security

A final consolation for those who are not comfortable entering their banking details whilst making an online purchase, do not need to worry. A supplier has an obligation to ensure that the payment system is secure and in line with technological standards as they will be liable for any damages suffered by a consumer if the payment system is not a secure one.


Stephanie Christensen obtained her BComm (Law) andLLB degrees from the University of Stellenbosch and was admitted as an attorney in 2009 after completing her articles at a law firm in Brackenfell, Cape Town. She is currently a SEESA Consumer Protection & POPI Legal Advisor at the Cape Town Office.


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