High street shops don’t have to accept returns unless an item is faulty, but returns for online purchases are covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations

Cancellation of online order

Sanchia Pereira from Which? Legal says: When you buy an item online you can change your mind up to 14 days after the item has been delivered. Where you have ordered more than one item the 14 days runs from the last item being delivered.

If the trader has not yet delivered the items and you change your mind about having them you can speak to the seller about cancellation but if they refuse; potentially, you would have to take delivery for your cooling off period to start.

A service purchased online can put you in a slightly different position to the above. If you have explicitly agreed for the service to commence within the 14 day cancellation period, and you decide to cancel at a later date, it is likely you will need to pay for any services delivered until the point at which you have cancelled.

It is advisable to:

  • Keep a written record of when you cancelled the contract. If you cancel in writing you will have a record of the email or letter you sent to the trader.
  • Speak to the trader about the method of returning the items as the trader may collect them or they may not be suitable for return by post.
  • If you are required to send them back to the seller in the post; send them by recorded delivery so you can prove that they have been received by the seller in 14 days of cancellation.
  • Check the contract, the trader should not ask you to agree to terms of a contract that do not give you your cooling off rights.

There are situations in which you can lose your right to cancel the contract, for example, if you open the seal on goods making them not suitable for return either because of health or hygiene reasons; because they get mixed with other items after delivery or if you take the seal off audio/video or computer software.

It is also worth noting that there are purchases you can make which do not afford you the cooling off period because of their characteristics. For example bespoke items such as dress made to your specification or items that will deteriorate such as food. If you are unsure of whether your item is bespoke or if you have the 14 day right to cancel  Legal can give you extra advice tailored to your situation.

When you buy goods online you have additional rights to return them.

This is because your decision may be based on a brief description or a photograph – so what you receive isn’t always quite what you’d expected.

Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, you are allowed to return an item if you simply change your mind.

Online returns timelines

You have the right to cancel at any time from the moment you place your online order, and up to 14 days from the day you receive your goods. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘cooling-off period’.

You need to notify the retailer of your wish to cancel your order within this time period – by email, for example.

You then have a further 14 days from the date you notify the retailer of your cancellation to return the goods.

Longer returns periods

Many online retailers extend the cancellation period even further, so be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully as you may have longer to return unwanted items.

However, be aware that if you rely on the online store’s more generous timeline for returns, there may be extra conditions you’ll have to stick to if you decide to send the goods back outside of your 14-day right to reject.

If you return your unwanted goods according to the timelines set out by the Consumer Contracts Regulations, there are only a few exemptions to getting a refund.

Exemptions to online returns

There are some circumstances where the Consumer Contracts Regulations won’t give you a right to cancel.

These include CDs, DVDs or software if you’ve broken the seal on the wrapping, perishable items and tailor-made or personalised items. They also include goods with a seal for health protection and hygiene reasons that’s been broken.

Also included are goods that have been mixed inseparably with other items after delivery.


Do I have to pay to return unwanted goods?

You must cover the delivery cost for returning unwanted goods, unless the retailer says it will pay for returns.

Some retailers offer free returns labels, so you don’t have to pay to return.

We recommend you get proof of postage, just in case the retailer later disputes you’ve returned your goods.

Proof of postage should be sufficient evidence to prove you returned the goods.

Read our guide on who pays to return unwanted goods for more information that includes your rights when your parcel shows up late or goes missing.

If your goods are faulty, you shouldn’t have to pay to return the goods. Read our section on returns costs for faulty products for more information.

Can I get delivery costs refunded?

The following advice applies to you if your online order arrived on time as expected and you’d now like to return it because you no longer want it.

Notify the retailer of your wish to cancel the goods and return them within the returns time period.

After returning the goods, the retailer should refund you the cost of the goods and the standard delivery cost you paid to get the goods sent to you in the first place.

Your refund for the goods and standard delivery cost must be paid within 14 calendar days after returning the goods, or evidence that they were returned.

If the retailer has offered to collect the goods, it should refund you 14 days from the date you informed it you wanted to cancel the contract. So, this means you don’t have to wait for the retailer to have collected the goods to get your refund.

I paid extra for special delivery, can I get this cost refunded?

You won’t get your express/dedicated day delivery cost refunded when you return an unwanted good that arrived on time, as this part of the service was performed by the retailer.

If you paid extra for goods to be delivered at a certain time and they arrived later than this and you no longer want them, then you can ask to be refunded the cost of the express/dedicated delivery too.

This is because the retailer didn’t perform that part of the service, which you paid extra for them to do.

If you’re looking to recover costs from the retailer because your goods arrived late or didn’t show up, read our guide on late deliveries for more information.


Can the retailer deduct any money from me?

A deduction can be made if the value of the goods has been reduced as a result of you handling the goods more than was necessary.

The extent to which you can handle the goods is the same as it would be if you were assessing them in a shop.

Returning faulty goods bought online

The Consumer Contracts Regulations are in addition to your other legal rights.

If you receive goods that are faulty and don’t do what they’re supposed to, or don’t match the description given, you have the same rights under the Consumer Rights Act as you have when buying face to face.

Any terms and conditions that say you must cover the cost of returning an item don’t apply where the goods being returned are faulty.

If you are looking to return your item because it is faulty, read our guide on what to do if you need to return a faulty product.

Should I accept credit notes for returns?

The retailer may have a returns policy stating that it will only give customers a credit note or vouchers for returns. But this must only apply where customers are looking to return an unwanted item.

Additionally, if you are returning your online order up to or within the 14 days from the day you received your goods, under the Consumer Contracts Regulations you can ask for a refund rather than a credit note.

The retailer’s returns policy also can’t require customers to take vouchers where an item has been returned due to it being faulty.

The Consumer Rights Act specifies the rights that consumers have if products develop a fault and the seller can’t remove or reduce these.