How to shop online

Consumers who shop on the internet should inform themselves carefully about the online retailer prior to ordering. For this reason, we always advise consumers to take a look at the imprint of the online shop. We will also explain the pitfalls of the ordering process and how you can protect yourself from dubious providers.

Compare prices!

It might be in your interests to buy from a trader based in another EU country since you can often find lower prices and a wider range of products abroad. However, there are certain risks that you should be aware of and a few things to keep in mind when buying online in another State. The following guidelines are here to help you shop successfully online.


Pay attention to the terms of delivery!

Do you want to send someone a present for their special day? Do you need to get something by a certain date?  If so, you should look into the terms and conditions of delivery, and order the goods well in advance so that they arrive in time.  This is particularly important when you buy from an online store located outside your home-country because cross border delivery may take longer than usual. Should you have any doubts about whether the goods will arrive in time, ask the trader. Please be aware that international bank transfers may also take longer to process, even though SEPA regulations state that they have to be executed within one working day.


Choose your online store carefully!

The following rules of thumb can help you avoid fraudulent e-commerce websites:

  • Check whether or not it is easy to find the contact details of the company (e.g. the name of the company, the executive director, and the postal address – a P.O. Box is not sufficient). In Germany, the contact information can usually be found under “Kontakt” or “Impressum”. In the European Union, any online store is obliged to provide this information (according to article 5 of the e-commerce directive).
  • Should you have doubts or if you want to make sure that the customer service speaks English, just call the online store. You should also give them a call if you have additional questions regarding the details of a product or concerning delivery from one country to another. However, before you call, make sure that the phone number is not a premium-rate telephone number.
  • Have a look: You should be able to easily access the terms and conditions (Allgemeinen Geschäftsbedingungen) and information about the right of withdrawal (Widerrufs- oder Rückgabebelehrung) on the website.
  • There might be a trust mark on the website – a mark which verifies the authenticity of a business. But beware, fake trust marks and more or less futile seals of approval can also be found on the web. However, even if you see one of those seals on an online shop, you may double-check on the trust seal’s website whether the shop is really registered there, as we have seen many reports about the misuse of „real“ Trustmarks.
  • What kind of experience did other consumers have? Internet forums can be helpful, but you should also keep in mind that they sometimes only reflect very subjective points of view and not necessarily the objective truth. Some forums are also misused, either by the shops themselves or by rival businesses. Therefore, you should compare the results from various forums and also verify the date when the commentaries were posted!


Gather information about the offered payment plans!

More often than not, foreign websites request you to pay the price of the product in advance, and do not accept payment by check nor on delivery, but only payment by bank transfer or credit card. In order to avoid extra costs when transferring money abroad, please make sure to use the international bank details (IBAN and BIC). Only pay by credit card if you are on a secure website (identified by a padlock icon in the browser window and by the letter “s” after the address header „http“ https:// www...). Also, you should never send your credit card control number (the three-digit security code printed in the signature field on the back of your credit card) to the trader, but only enter it in the appropriate field on the secure online payment form.

Please note: For Internet transactions, it can be very useful to have an additional credit card with  a low credit limit. Then, the risk is limited to a certain amount!

If you discover that you have been scammed or that an amount has been charged from your credit card that you haven’t authorized, you should contact your bank immediately. In many cases, you can get your money back if you react quickly after discovering the problem. Nevertheless, ask your bank if such a possibility is foreseen and if so, find out exactly how you should proceed – there are differences and you may choose a credit card or a bank accordingly. Beware of transactions via money transfer services to unknown recipients!


Do not confirm your order too hastily!

Verify once again which products are in your shopping cart, the amount of the delivery costs and in case of an order outside the EU, which taxes could possibly be added to the price. Print out your order or sales agreements (including the detailed product description) as well as the general Terms and Conditions (Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen) and the information concerning the right of withdrawal (Widerrufs- or Rückgabebelehrung), or save them on your computer since this information is sometimes changed afterwards. For this purpose you can also use screenshots.


Note the withdrawal period!

If the product does not suit you or does not meet your requirements, every EU-member state grants you14 (working) days after receipt to withdraw from the contact. However, in case of a purchase on a German website, the period of 14 days foreseen by the German law may be applicable.

Attention! The right of withdrawal is generally excluded for certain products or services such as:

  • CDs or DVDs which were unsealed by the consumer, perishable goods, newspapers and magazines, etc.

  • Hotel accommodations, concert or flight tickets, etc.

  • Goods sold by private persons (for instance, on platforms for action)

  • Products made to the consumer's specifications or clearly personalized items. The criterion taken into account is whether the product could easily be sold to another person at the same price.


Watch out for “data economy” when you order!

It is essentially impossible for you to not provide any information at all when buying online – of course, to deliver the goods the trader needs an address and a name. But often, numerous other data are required. Think about whether or not you really want to give them this information. If the trader does not differentiate between optional and compulsory information and asks for a lot of information, you should consider buying from another online store.


Double-check the goods as soon as they are delivered!

Immediately point out any damage you notice to the transport company that delivers the goods and indicate this damage on the delivery form. Furthermore, make a formal complaint in writing to the trader to notify them that the product was damaged when it was delivered to you, or that it did not match the order you placed. Then, ask the trader to repair the product or to replace it with a new product. You can set a reasonable time limit for the trader to respond. 

If you return a product, do so in its original packaging and with the delivery receipt. On principle, if you return the product to the dealer because you want to withdraw from the sales contract, they are responsible for any transportation damages.

  • Nevertheless, you are obliged to repack the product properly when you return it. Otherwise, you will be held liable for any damages.
  • Therefore, we recommend returning the good in its original packaging; otherwise the trader might demand indemnifications, since they can no longer sell the good at its original price.
  • Please also make sure to select a transport service which provides you with a delivery receipt. With this note, you can prove in case of any uncertainties that the packet has actually been returned.
  • Please note that according to the new directive 2011/83/EU you have to pay the return delivery charges – unless the trader did not inform you about this clause. Of course, traders may still assume the return charges voluntarily.


In case of a dispute, ask for help!

If you have a dispute with a trader in another country and you do not succeed in reaching an agreement with the trader by yourself, you can contact us for more advice. The European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) can help to settle the matter on an amicable basis. For more information, please turn to the European Consumer Centre of your home-country.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.