Shopping online from a Fair Trading perspective

| August 1, 2011

For consumers, shopping online offers ease, convenience, variety and the potential for considerable savings.

For retailers, selling online is an opportunity to expand their market, reduce costs and increase turnover.

But it’s not all upside – online shopping also carries unique or additional risks for both consumers and retailers.

As most businesses who sell online appreciate, just because a business isn’t selling through traditional shop premises doesn’t mean that the regular rules of business don’t apply.

Consumers still expect good products and service, governments still expect business laws to be complied with and, as a business operator, you still need to plan and budget the same as any other business.  The obligations of online retailers extend beyond the mailroom.

Between the 2010 and 2011 financial year NSW Fair Trading received 3849 complaints concerning online trading, including 131 complaints about online auctions.

The most common complaints received related to non or partial supply, refunds, or defective goods/quality issues.

Consumers can take heart that the comprehensive consumer guarantees afforded by the Australian Consumer Law are in place regardless of the method of purchase.

That said, many consumers have found out the hard way that whilst they have consumer rights here in Australia, enforcement can be very difficult if the vendor is located overseas – a common occurrence when buying online.

Not only are consumer rights and responsibilities often different overseas, other complications can emerge. It can be difficult for overseas retailers to verify the goods are faulty and disputes over which consumer laws apply are not uncommon.

Buyers and sellers can take simple precautions when trading online. Make sure you know who you are dealing with and verify the details of the company or the customer you are trading with. Ask yourself where they are located, if this adds to the risk of the transaction and if this is something you are prepared to accept?

Be upfront – make sure you are fully informed and transparent around return policies and delivery expectations. Don’t deal with buyers or sellers who are evasive and ensure they have a verifiable physical address.

Certainty, transparency and trust are fundamental to a thriving market place. Business and consumers can do a lot to generate these circumstances and doing so provides exciting opportunities for all participants. 

My department and I are hoping that by raising awareness of these issues and opportunities, NSW retailers and consumers will take a leading role in online commerce.

For more online business tips visit the Fair Trading website at or call 13 32 20.


The Hon Anthony Roberts MP is the NSW Minister for Fair Trading. Prior to becoming the Member for Lane Cove, he was Liberal Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Lane Cove Municipal Council.  Anthony was also a proud member of the Australian Army Reserve and adviser to Prime Minister John Howard.