When I can’t find something I’m looking for, the one place I look is the Internet. Just last month, I was in a store looking at a few unique socks (kitties, raccoons, seagulls…I know I’m strange!) thinking that they would make excellent holiday stocking stuffers. I went back to the same store a few days later and found an empty shelf. Someone else had the same idea! So I found the company’s website and considered ordering the socks online, noting that the company was based in the United States.

November is Financial Literacy Month (FLM) and throughout the month, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada collaborates with various organizations to promote financial literacy for Canadians of all ages. To support this initiative we will be featuring online shopping tips on our blog to help you stay savvy.  Many of us shop online, probably more than ever, so read on to learn more.

Are there laws around buying / selling online?

In BC, when you buy products or services online you may be entering a contract called distance sales contract. With this type of contract, you don’t enter into the contract in person and you don’t have the opportunity to inspect the goods before purchasing. Be aware that when you click that “I agree” button before you buy online, that you are entering into a contract. Consumer Protection BC regulates certain aspects of distance sales contracts in BC, including what’s required to be in the contract. Learn more about online purchases on our website.

What do I need to look for?

If you are thinking of buying something online whether big or small, consider the following before making a decision:

  1. Do your research and shop with reputable company – do you know anyone who has shopped there before and how was their experience? Check their rating with their local Better Business Bureau. You may also want to look around the web to read other consumer feedback.
  2. Check their return, refund and exchange policy and read the fine print. If this is not clearly listed on the website, contact them and ask.
  3. Make sure you have the physical address and a contact phone number of the business.
  4. Verify the cost of the product or service, type of currency (US, Canadian or other), shipping and handling charges. Note that companies are required to tell you what currency they are using.
  5. Keep digging – find out their delivery time frame. Do they offer a warranty or guarantee? Will you have to pay duty if a product is coming from another country?

Hopefully when you next shop online, you can remember some of these tips to help you make an informed decision. There’s a lot more to know about distance sales contracts, for more tips and information about online shopping, stay tuned for other blog posts as part of the Financial Literacy Month blog series.


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