Mail Order shopping is an increasingly popular way to buy goods, and of course it is ideal if you at home with your baby or toddlers.

Many people prefer to shop this way, rather than travelling to and from busy shopping centres and High Streets. Opportunities to buy by mail order are all around us, via magazines, newspapers and catalogues, telephone selling, TV and radio advertising, postal offers and mail shots, and increasingly through electronic means, such as the Internet. Virtually anything can be bought by mail order, from clothing, make up and shoes to food and wine; books, CDs and videos to garden plants and furniture; and even large and expensive items such as sofas, computers and cars.

When you buy goods this way, the law gives you the same rights as you would have in a shop. The Sale of Goods Act 1979 (amended by the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994) says that goods should be:

  • of a satisfactory quality
  • reasonably fit for their normal purpose
  • as described

So if the goods are faulty or misdescribed when you receive them, you are entitled to return them and get a full refund, including any postage charges that you paid. You need to act quickly, though.

If you buy online you have a cancellation period of seven working days, starting from the day after you receive the items. This is known as a ‘cooling off period’ and starts from the time you place your order. If you change your mind about wanting the items within this time you can cancel your order, send the goods back and ask for your money back. However, you are not allowed to send back the following items if you change your mind:

  • computer software, CDs or DVDs if their security seal has been broken
  • personalised items (for example an engraved item) or items made to your specification
  • perishable items such as food or flowers
  • newspapers or magazine
  • goods/services where the price is dependent on fluctuations in the market (e.g. currency or shares)

You might feel worried about sending your money off first – what happens if you don’t get your goods, or the trader goes bust?

Follow these tips to try to minimise any risks.

tips for shopping by post

  • Always keep a copy of your order and the advertisement. If you saw the goods in a TV advert or heard about them on a radio advert, make a note of the company’s details and the date of the advert and keep it safe.
  • Try to deal with companies who give their full address. Be wary of companies who only give a Post Office Box number or a telephone number.
  • Try to avoid paying in advance if possible. Some mail order companies will invoice you after they have sent the goods to you, and this is the best way of protecting your money.
  • If you have to pay up front, don’t send cash through the post, unless you use registered post.
  • If the goods are worth more than £100 each, consider paying by credit card, as this protects your money in the event of something going wrong with the order.
  • Keep hold of cheque stubs and postal order counterfoils, and keep an eye on your bank statements to ‘track’ the order.
  • If you need the goods for a particular event, such as birthdays or Christmas, make sure you state this clearly when you place the order.
  • If you have seen the goods in a magazine, newspaper or catalogue, check whether the company is covered by a relevant mail order protection scheme.
  • If you are joining a club or scheme with membership requirements, such as a book or record club, make sure you read the terms fully so that you know your level of commitment. Make sure you keep a copy of the terms if necessary.
  • Check if the company has a policy on returning goods that you don’t like or arrive damaged – many firms will allow you to send unwanted goods back within between 7 to 14 days. But, at the moment, there is no legal obligation on them to do so.
  • If the packaging is damaged then either do not sign to accept the delivery, or make a specific note that the package is damaged. Many times the small print when you are asked to sign says you are accepting the goods received in perfect condition – which can be a problem if you later try and reject them.
  • If you have to return any goods, make sure you get a proof of posting certificate from the carrier. If you are writing to the company to complain about something, consider using ‘RECORDED DELIVERY’.

The Trading Standards Institute have kindly allowed us to reproduce the following advice on buying by post.

For more information and advice, visit their web site

There is also useful advice the consumer direct website