Shopping online: Your rights in case of late delivery and lost parcels

When you buy online, for example from an online shop based in another EU country, the retailer is responsible for making sure you get the goods you ordered. If the goods you ordered are damaged or lost in transit, you can get your money back. The trader is also liable for the loss of returned goods - anywhere in Europe.

Find out more about your rights in our FAQ.

Who is liable if my package arrives damaged or is lost?

If you are a consumer buying from a commercial retailer, the retailer bears the shipping risk and is therefore liable for any damages if the ordered goods arrive damaged or are lost.

Exception: You have chosen to use a different delivery service. In this case, this is your point of contact.

Who is liable for a private purchase, e.g. via an online marketplace?

If you buy from a private individual, the seller is only liable for the correct packaging of the goods (if he sends the goods at the buyer's request). The seller's liability ends when the goods are handed over to a parcel service. If the goods are lost or damaged, the buyer can only contact the transport company to claim for damages.

The parcel service is liable for its own fault if the goods are lost or damaged. For other risks, e.g. damage caused by force majeure such as war, strikes, natural disasters or other extreme weather conditions, etc., you, as the recipient of the shipment, can take out insurance.

When do I need to report damage?

If the damage is visible from the outside, you should make a claim immediately when you receive the parcel.

If the carrier is present or you collect the parcel from the post office, you will also have a direct witness. In this case, make a note of the defects on the package, document the damage with a photo and inform the retailer immediately so that they can refund the purchase price or arrange for a new delivery.

If the damage to the goods only becomes apparent when you unpack them, you should also report the damage to the retailer as soon as possible so that they can initiate the damage assessment process through the transport company. Document everything with photos, videos and witnesses.

Damaged parcel delivery: warranty or guarantee?

Legal warranty rights are valid for two years throughout the EU. The so-called reversal of the burden of proof for a period of one year from delivery makes it easier for the consumer to prove that there is a defect.

In addition, manufacturers or sellers can offer a voluntary guarantee. It is up to you to decide which is better for you in the event of a faulty product, based on the terms of the guarantee. Manufacturers or sellers are free to set these. Read more about the difference between warranties and guarantees here.

Can the courier just leave the parcel on the doorstep?

Unfortunately, in practice, parcels are often left on the doorstep without authorisation. This is not allowed. If the carrier does it anyway and the parcel gets lost, the retailer is liable.

Exception: You have agreed with the delivery service that the parcel can be left outside your front door or on the terrace. In this case, the parcel is considered delivered as soon as it is left there. If the package is stolen, you are liable as the customer.

Is a delivery to a neighbour considered 'legally delivered'?

The general terms and conditions of parcel delivery companies often state that parcels can be delivered to neighbours. According to case law, these clauses are only valid if the deliverer is also obliged to inform the recipient of the neighbourhood delivery.

If you do not want your parcel to be delivered to a neighbour, you should inform the delivery company or, even better, the retailer.

Do I have to take parcels for my neighbours?

No, you are not required to accept parcels for your neighbours.

However, if you do, you must keep them carefully. You must not open the parcels, use the contents or simply leave them on your neighbour's doorstep.

Can I have parcels delivered to a post office?

Yes, you should have any important or valuable parcels delivered to your nearest post office. The advantage of this is that you can check the parcel for damage at your leisure. You will also avoid unsuccessful delivery attempts by the parcel service.

Alternatively, you can have the parcel delivered to a Packstation. The advantage of this is that you have round-the-clock access and are not tied to the opening hours of the post office.

What rights do I have if the delivery is late?

The trader must tell you when the goods will be delivered. If the online shop is late with delivery, you can cancel the order or withdraw from the contract after setting a deadline. You will then receive a refund.

If a binding delivery date has been given (e.g. "delivery by ... guaranteed"), but the trader fails to deliver and you suffer loss, you can claim compensation. However, this does not apply to phrases such as "delivery time 3 to 5 working days".

Do I have a right of cancellation if I buy online?

Yes, because you cannot try the goods when you buy them, you have a 14-day right of withdrawal. This does not apply to perishable goods, customised products (e.g. a custom flocked football shirt) or travel services.

Please note: The non-acceptance of an ordered product does not constitute a cancellation! You must expressly declare this and then send the parcel to the return address specified by the retailer. This may differ from the sender's address. In the event of unauthorised refusal of acceptance, you are liable for damages in the event of loss or damage to the consignment on the way back to the retailer.

Who pays for the return?

The customer is responsible for the cost of returning the goods after a cancellation, provided the retailer has informed them correctly. It is best to check the cancellation policy. However, the online retailer often covers these costs voluntarily. In this case, ask for a return label to be sent to you.

On the other hand, if the goods are faulty and you are returning them for repair or replacement, the retailer must pay for the return postage.

Who is liable if the goods are lost on the return journey?

The retailer bears the risk in transit. However, you must be able to prove that you sent the package properly packed and addressed. It is possible that the packaging used for the original shipment (perhaps on pallets in a lorry or similar) may not be strong enough for the return. Very fragile products in particular may require additional or new packaging!

It may be helpful to document the packaging with photographs as proof. You must also be able to prove that you have returned the goods. Keep the proof of delivery from the courier in a safe place. This will allow you to trace the delivery.

You do not need to keep the original packaging of the item when you return it. Online retailers cannot refuse to accept returns because the original packaging is missing.

Important: If you do not use the return label provided by the seller and use a different delivery service, you will be liable for any loss or damage.

I have received goods I did not order: What should I do?

It happens from time to time that consumers receive goods that they did not order. If this happens, you do not have to pay for the goods or keep them. The same applies if you have ordered one product but received another instead.

If you keep receiving goods and the seller claims that you have placed an order or subscribed to a service that you don't know about, what can you do? Read here what to do if you fall into a subscription trap.

Fraud with incorrect or missing parcel contents

We are receiving more and more reports of people receiving an item other than the smartphone or laptop they ordered - for example, printer cartridges or cheap plastic items. Or the parcel is completely empty. In many cases, the mistake is not realised until the parcel is opened. If you want to exercise your right of cancellation, the mail order company will ask you to return the goods as a condition for a refund. The problem is that you never received the goods.

Whether the goods were wrong from the start or have been mistaken in transit, you can do this so that you have proof against the mail order company in case of doubt:

  • On receipt, check the package for external damage and signs of tampering.
  • Compare the size and weight of the parcel with the order before opening it.
  • Open the parcel in the presence of a witness and document this, for example with a video.
  • Keep the parcel label with the weight information

When you return an item, the retailer may tell you that a different product has arrived to the one you sent. If this happens, you will need to prove that you packed and sent the correct goods - if they were mixed up in transit, for example, the retailer will be liable. Again, documenting the packing process and weighing the package can help.

Can an online shop from another EU country refuse to ship to Germany?

Since the prohibition of unjustified geo-blocking in the European Union, a European seller cannot refuse to sell a product to you on the basis of your place of residence, nationality, bank details, etc.

It must be possible to purchase the product under the same conditions that apply to residents of the country in which the seller is based. However, this does not mean that delivery must also be possible to other countries! You may therefore have to organise the delivery yourself.

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.