Things to keep in Mind
Distance selling is very popular among consumers. Basically there is nothing wrong with distance selling, which doubtlessly has many advantages: customers can browse through the catalogue at leisure and place their order without stress and without being pressurised by shop assistants.
However, the following points should be kept in mind when dealing with mail-order houses.
What to do about deliveries of unsolicited goods
Consumers frequently complain about being sent goods by a mail-order house even though they are sure they never ordered anything. First of all it should be made clear that unsolicited goods need not of course be paid for.
Under section 864, sub-section 2 of the Civil Code (ABGB) you may keep, use or consume any unsolicited goods which have been delivered to you without appearing to accept an offer. Furthermore, the recipient is under no obligation to keep or return such goods and is free to dispose of them.
But be careful! If it is obvious from the circumstances that the goods have been sent to you by mistake, you must notify the sender or return the goods in due time.
If you are not entirely sure whether you actually ordered anything, you should try to find out before paying the bill (e.g. by requesting a copy of the order form or letter).
Cash on delivery or credit transfer?
It is generally advisable to arrange for payment by credit transfer when ordering goods at a distance as this will allow you to inspect the goods and to detect any defects.
If you pay cash on delivery, the purchase price plus c.o.d. fee is payable immediately upon receipt of the goods. If the goods turn out to be defective or if the wrong goods have been delivered, it can be very difficult to get your money back.
On no account should you send cash or cheques by post as it is extremely difficult to prove in the case of a dispute that the seller has actually received the money.
Be careful when paying by credit transfer! Considerable bank charges may be payable if the mail-order house is located abroad.
Is there a general right to return unwanted goods?
Basically the principle that contracts must be kept to applies here.
There is no general legal right to return unwanted goods in distance selling (see our information on the Distance Selling Directive).
However, many mail-order houses grant their customers the right to return goods within a certain period.
Hint: if at all possible, order your goods from a mail-order business which grants you this right, as this will allow you to inspect them at your leisure and to return them if they are not to your liking.
If the seller does not grant you this right, you are in principle obliged to accept the goods you have ordered and to pay the bill.
Should the goods received turn out to be defective, the rules on legal guarantee apply. If the goods received are not what was actually ordered, the rules on late delivery are applicable.
Foreign distance-selling operators
If the mail-order house is located abroad, you should be aware that foreign law might be applicable and that a foreign court might have jurisdiction over any dispute, which would not exactly make it easier for you to assert your rights.
Always study the mail-order house's "General Terms and Conditions" before placing an order.
Pay particular attention to the address given, i.e. whether it is a "normal" address or merely a post office box. If the latter is the case, it may be difficult to find out in the case of a dispute who is really behind the distance-selling operator in question.