Throughout the year, Belgian consumers make a huge number of purchases online. With the Christmas period fast approaching, sales have reached a peak. However, buying over the Internet still remains a bit of a gamble. After all, it's possible that when your purchase is finally delivered, you might be disappointed and wished that you had never bought the item in the first place. What do you do then?
The right of cancellation
Most consumers are already aware of the right of cancellation. This means that the purchased produce can be returned and the purchase price will be refunded. But how exactly does it work?
Who does it apply to?
For many years, Europe has demanded the widest possible consumer protection - something that is already a well-developed concept in Belgium. This article discusses the consumer's right of cancellation and especially, the consumer's rights relating to products purchased online. Because consumers cannot see and test the product, as they could in a physical store, the right of cancellation has been established.
Notification and deadline
If you wish to return unwanted items, you must notify the seller within 14 calendar days after the product was delivered.
You can notify the seller using any means. However, it should be obvious that you are requesting a refund for the product and that you are doing this within the specified deadline. In the event that there are any queries, you must be able to show that you exercised your right of cancellation before the deadline; therefore, it is best if you notify the seller in writing. When you make your purchase, the seller should provide you with a return form, which makes it easier for you to exercise your right of cancellation. However, you are not obliged to use this form.
For every purchase?
You will normally be able to return that unwanted toy you bought for Christmas at an online store without any problems if you follow the above guidelines. Perhaps the toy is too noisy, or larger than expected, or perhaps it's not even remotely what you expected: in almost all cases, your right of cancellation will apply.
However, there are some exceptions. These exceptions relate to customised products (which are difficult for the seller to sell again), products that by their nature go off quickly or products with a limited shelf life (such as food); digital content (the contents of which can be copied), etc.
Is a full refund made?
The basic principle is that the full amount is refunded as if the purchase had never taken place. The cost of return shipping may however be charged to the consumer if the seller has stated this before the purchase was made. The actual purchase cost and delivery costs will be refunded to the consumer.
However, the seller has the option of charging a fee to the consumer for a depreciation in value. What this means precisely, however, remains unclear. In fact, this fee should be calculated according to the reduction in value of the purchased item that goes beyond the reduction in value that the item would undergo under normal conditions of testing. 'Normal testing' means anything that you would do to the product if you were in a physical store. For many products, it is difficult for the seller to prove that the consumer has made extended use of the product and not just merely tested it. For the majority of electronic products, this can be checked by means of an 'internal clock'. Thus, for example, it can be checked whether or not you used your television for a 40-hour period after it was delivered. It goes without saying, that this is longer than any test that could take place in a physical store.
Consumers must return unwanted goods within 14 calendar days following the notification of cancellation. On the other hand, the seller must make the refund as quickly as possible and within this same time limit. However, once the seller has evidence showing that a return has been requested or once the seller receives the returned goods, then in principle the seller must make the refund immediately. However, the way of proceeding after a cancellation has been requested, is therefore not always obvious.
E-commerce is maintaining impressive growth and will peak in this period. In this online world, the consumer enjoys a high level of protection; we have briefly outlined the consumer's right of cancellation. However, it goes without saying that there are other deviations and exceptions, on which a lot could be written.
Indulge yourself this Christmas with your online shopping and remember that as a consumer, you have a right of cancellation. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions.
We base our advice on current legislation, interpretations and legal doctrine. This does not prevent the administration from being able to challenge it or to change existing interpretations.