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Online retail rights – a victory for internet shoppers

10th May 2019

Many of us have forsaken high street stores and now shop online from the comfort of our homes or the convenience of our workplaces – and we have come to accept that it is our right to return goods purchased via the internet if they do not meet our expectations, even if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with them.

Until now online retailers have been able to refuse the return of goods not in perfect condition with their original packaging undamaged. However, a recent case heard by the European Court of Justice has clarified this Europe-wide legislation. German resident Sascha Ledowski purchased a mattress online. It arrived in a sealed protective cover and Mr Ledowski, after unpacking it to determine whether he was satisfied with it, decided to return it. The retailer refused to accept it – because its packaging had been removed the mattress was considered no longer to be hygienic. Mr Ledowski took his case to the German Federal Court of Justice, which found in his favour; the retailer then appealed to the European Court, which ruled Mr Ledowski could return the mattress based on its conclusion that a product is not rendered unfit for resale solely because it has lost its protective film.

During its deliberations, the court noted that people buying clothes would usually try them on before deciding whether to return them and these clothes would have been in contact with the human body. The court ruling stated that even in the case of goods that have been in direct contact with the human body: “it may be presumed that the trader is in a position to make those goods, after they have been returned by the consumer, by means of a treatment such as cleaning or disinfection, suitable for use by a third party and, accordingly a new sale, without prejudice to the requirements of health protection or hygiene.”

The court ruled that consumers should not be deprived of their rights just because they have handled the goods enough to establish whether they are happy with their “nature, characteristics and functioning”.

This is clearly a victory for consumers but potentially a significant issue for online retailers for whom the obligation to accept returns is an expensive burden. One online clothing retailer has already amended its policy to state that it will investigate any unusual sale and return patterns.

For more information on dispute resolution law, contact the George Ide team on 01243 786668 or email us at info@georgeide.co.uk.

Ian Oliver. Partner, Dispute Resolution department.

General, George Ide, News
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