Small print that could cost online shoppers

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Welcome to Sisters In Law,’s weekly column solving all of your legal problems.

This week, our resident lawyers and real-life sisters Alison and Jillian Barrett from Maurice Blackburn advise about what to do if you don’t receive an online order and want a refund.

QUESTION: I ordered something from a China-based fashion website and it looks nothing like the pictures! It was meant to be a cute summer dress but when it arrived it was so short that it was unwearable. I contacted the site to ask for an exchange or refund but they haven’t replied and I can’t find the terms and conditions on their website. I now have a dress that I can’t wear and feel like I’ll never get my money back. What can I do? – Celia, Vic

ANSWER: Online shopping is a convenient way to shop – until something goes wrong.

The practicalities of dealing with a retailer based overseas can be really challenging, even if there are laws to protect you.

Your initial steps in looking for the terms and conditions on their website is a good starting point.

You should also email them and ask for the refunds and returns policy to be provided to you.

The business needs to comply with the consumer protection laws of their own country, in this case, China.

That said, given the business is also trading in Australia (by allowing Australian customers to purchase their products and shipping to Australia), the Australian Consumer Law also applies.

This law requires the seller to guarantee, among other things, that the dress:

• Is safe, free from defects and durable.

• Does everything you would expect it to, everything you were told it would do and any purpose you made the seller aware you needed it to do.

• Matches the description of the sample you were shown, on the advertisement, packaging or as described by the seller.

When things go wrong you will have the right to a repair, replacement or refund. When it’s a minor problem, the seller can choose the remedy. Where it is a major issue, as it sounds like this is – not matching the description you were shown – then you can choose.

In terms of practical steps you should take:

1. Email the seller and ask for their refund policy. Explain your issue in detail, attaching photos of the dress on you and screenshots of the dress online clearly showing the variation. Request a refund or an exchange and provide them with a set period of time to respond to you.

2. Undertake some research to determine what rights the local consumer protection laws of China provide and importantly whether there is a consumer protection agency that will assist you.

3. Keep records of all your communications with the seller and if you have no success, escalate the issue to the consumer protection agency in China.

4. Consider doing an online review of your experience to warn others of the challenges and read others’ reviews who may have been in the same situation and have learnings to share.

5. If you paid for the dress with a credit card, then you may consider lodging a “chargeback” request with your card provider as the dress was not as described.

6. Services like PayPal also offer buyer protection and may issue refunds in certain situations.

Without a doubt, if the seller is not cooperative it is not as straightforward to enforce your rights when the seller is based overseas, compared to Australia.

Stay persistent, we hope you get a resolution soon.

This legal information is general in nature and should not be regarded as specific legal advice or relied upon. Persons requiring particular legal advice should consult a solicitor.

If you have a legal question you would like Alison and Jillian to answer, please email Get more from Alison and Jillian on their Facebook page.

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