Malaysians are now starting to shop online more often - thanks to the convenience of being able to buy everything you need in the comfort of your own home.
However, that's not to say online shopping doesn't come with risks... Sometimes, you may pay for the item, and not receive it; or perhaps receive an item which isn't what you ordered. And unlike conventional stores in a shopping mall, you cannot return to the store with a receipt and demand for your money back or a replacement product.
Usually, when such instances happen, the best thing to do is to contact the seller, or perhaps the market website (e.g. Lazada, eBay, or Amazon). But if that doesn't work, are there legal avenues for you to literally get your money's worth?
First, it depends on what went wrong with your order
The courses of action you can take is dependent on the situation you're involved in. We will break this down into three common situations that customers may face when shopping online:
IF THE SELLER DIDN'T SEND THE ITEM TO YOU OR THE ITEM WAS NOT WHAT YOU WANTED:
This person bought an iPhone online and received a padlock instead. Full story on Cilisos.my
Firstly, it's generally advised that if something like this happens, you should contact the seller or the host website first. Usually they would try and fix the situation that you are in, either by refunding your money back or sending you the correct item. Going to the courts should be a last resort.
But in the event that you DO go court, here are a few things you should know :-
Firstly, these transactions are almost always a contract. In other words, it is a promise which can be enforced by the courts.The rules regarding such matters are the same whether or not you shop online or offline. So, when the seller agrees to accept your money and when you pay that money, it usually amounts to a contract as per Section 10 of the Contracts Act 1950:
"All agreements are contracts if they are made by the free consent of parties competent to contract, for a lawful consideration and with a lawful object, and are not hereby expressly declared to be void."
Thus, when a contract is concluded, you as a buyer have a duty to pay the amount agreed, and the seller has a duty to give you the item you bought. In this sense, if the seller doesn't give you the item you bought, or it was defective or bad quality, he may be liable for a breach of contract. [Click here to read our article on unwritten contracts]
So what happens when the seller has breached the contract? According to Section 40 Contracts Act 1950, you may put an end to the contract (Cancel the transaction). Further, Section 76 provides that you be able to claim damages, meaning that you may be able to sue the seller in question.
IF THE SELLER DESCRIBED THE PRODUCT WRONGLY:
Remember when the color of this dress caused a huge argument online? Image from Wired.
So imagine if you see this absolutely gorgeous white-and-gold dress online that's just screaming at you to buy it. You give in, place the order, and in a couple days receive the package in the mail. But oh no! The dress that you bought turns out to be black and blue!
This might be a case of misrepresentation, which in this case means that the seller made a false statement which induced you enter the contact (by purchasing the dress). In a situation like this, you could take up legal action against the seller - though we would again advise you to try getting a refund or replacement first.
If the seller is liable for misrepresentation, there are two options open to you - either to end the contract or to continue the contract:
- If you choose to end the contract - Section 34(1) of the Specific Relief Act 1950 states that you may be able to rescind the contract, basically ending it in such a way where the buyer and seller will be returned to the position as if the contract had never happened. So the seller returns the money, and the buyer returns the dress. Basically, it's as if the sale never happened.
- If you choose to continue with the contract - Section 19 of the Contracts Act 1950, suggests that if you choose to go on with the contract, you actually may be able to receive damages, assuming you have suffered losses. You may also compel the seller to send you the right dress.
The reason we've been reiterating that going to court should be a last option is because lawsuits can be an expensive, lengthy process that you may not want to put yourself through, especially if the item you bought didn't cost a lot to begin with. But thankfully there is another option available...
If the case is too small to go to court, you still have another option
The alternative to a lawsuit is to use two services provided by the Ministry of Domestic Trade (KPDNKK):
- Submit a complaint to the Consumer Affairs Department for them to launch an investigation
- Take your case to the Tribunal for Consumer Claims.
The Tribunal for Consumer Claims is an independent body established through the Consumer Protection Act 1999 - it may be helpful to think of them as a "private court" where judgments are binding by law. This may be a more affordable and quicker alternative if the amount of your claim is less than RM25,000 as neither party can engage lawyers. Instead, you will present your own case in court with the assistance of a member of the Tribunal.
On a final note, you should also make a police report, which can be submitted as evidence whether in court or with the Tribunal of Consumer Claims. It's possible that the police may conduct an investigation and possibly charge the seller with a crime, such as violating Section 5 of Trade Description Act which prohibits a trader from falsely describing a product in an advertisement. However, it should also be noted that not having your online shopping spree go as planned is considered a civil matter, so the police may not or cannot take action depending on circumstances.