Even before corona, more and more of us were heading online for our pet product purchases. With bulky, heavy items like bags or tins of food and quick, low cost delivery, it’s the natural choice for many.
But without any face-to-face interaction, it can be hard to know where you stand when things don’t go according to plan. In this article we'll be looking at your rights and protections when ordering online and what action you can take if and when things go wrong.
The rights you have as an online customer are actually greater than those you have when buying face-to-face.
The main statute that protects your interests as a consumer is the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This applies to most goods and services you buy, including dog food, treats, toys and other items for your pet.
This area of law also comes under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013.
Read the Terms and Conditions
While the above laws provide the framework for dealing with returns and complaints, many sellers offer additional customer protections like extended cancelation periods, satisfaction guarantees and so on, so it is always best to check the sellers’ Terms and Conditions before making an online purchase.
As a general rule, the burden lies with the seller to provide all necessary key information including:
A description of what is being purchased, the total price and how it is calculated
How you pay for the items with details of any additional costs and when the item(s) will be delivered to you
Details of your rights to cancel and the cost of returning, and who pays for the cost of returning items
The geographical location of the seller
Details of how to cancel the purchase
Can I change my mind?
You certainly can. As an online consumer, provided the packaging has not been opened, you are absolutely free to change your mind at any time up to 14 days after receiving any items bought online (or the last of a batch of items).
If you are purchasing services online, perhaps dog sitting or training sessions, for example, then your right to cancel starts as soon as you sign the contract and ends 14 days later.
However, if the seller has not provided all of the info listed above, the Consumer Contracts Regulations allow the cancellation period to be extended from 14 days to one year. In this case you can quote something along the lines of ‘I know my rights under the CCR 2013 and since you haven’t supplied me with all the necessary information, I am now able to cancel for up to one year’.
Can I get a refund?
For orders cancelled within the appropriate cancellation window, the seller must refund the cost of the item and standard delivery within 14 days after receiving the returned item or within 14 days of receiving proof that you have returned the item (for example, proof of posting). On the other hand if the seller has agreed to collect the returned item, then a refund should be forthcoming within 14 days of cancelling the order, whether or not the item has already been collected.
Can I return pet food after it has been opened?
Any pet food that has been opened by the customer generally cannot be returned unless it is obviously faulty (mouldy etc). Any other rights that the customer has depends on the individual supplier's/shop's terms and conditions and should be in line with the Consumer Contract Regulations (CCR) e.g a minimum of 14 days to return the item unless stated otherwise by the supplier who may give a longer period.
What if the pet food is faulty?
One of the more common pet food bug infestations - moth larvae
If you believe your pet food is faulty in some way, you should notify the supplier (that is the whoever you bought it from) as soon as is reasonably possible. Faults could include mould or pest infestation, the presence of foreign bodies in the food, broken purity seals on arrival or, in some cases, irregular odours, colours or consistencies.
If return the faulty products within 30 days you will be eligible for a full refund. After 30 days the retailer can offer you a replacement instead of a refund. You should not be responsible for the cost of postage when returning faulty items.
Some suppliers may extend the period for faulty goods which means that their terms and conditions need to be read. Consumer rights under the CCR are in addition to other statutory legal rights that the consumer has.
What if the pet food made my dog ill?
If you believe that a pet food has caused your pet to be ill because of a fault (i.e. because of a bad batch or some sort of contamination for example), you will need evidence to support your claim. The correct course of action would be to approach the supplier to make a complaint initially via their complaints process and see what the outcome is from that. If there is no satisfactory resolution by going through the complaints process, then the final recourse would be to go to the Ombudsman (click here for more info).
With the huge increase in online buying, it’s important to understand your rights, and to know how you are protected, when buying remotely. So, be sure to read the terms and conditions, and don’t be afraid to go back to the seller if you need to.
About the author
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.