Remedying credit card purchase remorse

By Marianne Curphey

We all make regrettable purchases every once in a while. Such regrets used to be simply a lapse in judgment while at the store -- a dress you didn't bother trying on that still had price tags on it, a set of dumbbells purchased Jan. 2 that hadn't moved since then.

However, thanks to online shopping and one-click purchasing on sites such as Amazon, it's easier than ever to make questionable purchases -- especially after a bottle of wine. Luckily, most products come with a return window.

In August 2014, The Guardian asked readers to reveal their worst drunken shopping disasters. Comments came in citing World Cup tickets, fancy cameras, musical instruments, clothing and even 193 litres of Dettol. And nearly a quarter of respondents to an August 2014 survey from Confused.com said they overspend on their credit card after they've been drinking. Clothes topped the list of participants' inebriated purchases, but some admitted to spending in excess of £500 on items such as a holiday.buyers-remorse

Dennis Hussey, money adviser at National Debtline, says that in an age of smartphones and shopping apps people are more prone to making snap decisions, either under the influence of alcohol or because they have an impetuous nature.

"Be aware that decisions you make in the heat of the moment might not be the best and could have unexpected outcomes," he warns. "Ask yourself, ‘Do I need it, can I afford it, have I the funds to pay for it?'"

Returning goods, services
Whether a few cocktails, a broken heart or just a bad day has you emptying your wallet, you do have return options -- if you act fast.

According to Gemma Boore, a corporate and commercial solicitor at Bates Wells & Braithwaite London LLP with a specific interest in consumer rights and protection, you have 14 days to cancel normal goods and services. You can even contact the seller before the goods are despatched in order to cancel the order.

This is thanks to the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which came into effect in June 2014 and extends the amount of time you have to cancel products or services you have bought online.

"The 14 days start when you receive the goods, or, if you are buying a service, when you have confirmation that the service will begin and you have all the information and terms and conditions," she says. The 14-day period is a minimum cancellation period; the seller can choose to extend the cancellation period, so it's worth checking the terms and conditions. And you can always cancel your order before your goods are dispatched, rather than waiting until they arrive.

If you purchase a service, the provider should not start providing the service before the end of the 14-day cancellation period, unless you specifically ask them to do so.

"If you do request a service starts straightaway, you still have the right to cancel, but you must pay for the value of the service that is provided up to the point you cancel," Boore says.

And if your adventures lead you to purchasing goods that are faulty or from an untrustworthy site, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act has you covered.

Exceptions to the Consumer Contracts rules
1. Airline tickets

If you book a flight, you should start packing because there are no cancellation rights on airline tickets, even if you did purchase them by mistake. There is an EU-wide law exempting plane tickets from the Consumer Contracts regulations, since what you pay for an airline ticket is time-critical.

"If you were to buy 20 tickets and then change your mind, all the customers who had bought the tickets after you would have paid a higher price because there were fewer seats available," Boore says.

2. Digital music
There are also different rules for digital music -- you can only return it if you haven't yet downloaded it.

"There are different consumer rights around digital music because it is a new category of goods and the way you access them is different," Boore says. "The Consumer Contract Regulations separate out digital contact from other goods and services. You still have 14 days to cancel your order but you can't download the music otherwise it would not be fair on the seller."

3. Websites that act as an intermediary between consumer and supplier
While Section 75 protects you from faulty or undelivered goods, the protection only applies if you have bought the product on the seller's own website.

Banks argued that Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act does not apply to goods purchased from sites such as Amazon Marketplace, because those sites process the payment from the credit card and then release the payment to the supplier upon completion of the order (making the usual three-party agreement a four-party one).

4. Purchases from non-UK sellers
The Consumer Contracts Regulations do not apply when buying from sellers outside of the UK. This means you do not benefit from the enhanced consumer rights under EU law if you buy goods from another country with no EU-based intermediary company acting as retailer.

5. Other exceptions
Finally, other exceptions to the 14-day rule are:

  • Goods made to a personal specification
  • Perishable goods , food and flowers
  • Newspapers and magazines (but not books)
  • Gaming, betting and lottery products
See related: Consumer Rights Directive gives advantages to online shoppers, Retailer refusing a refund? A credit card may help

Published: 10 September 2014