Returns on orders are commonplace in most online stores, especially in the fashion industry. Consumers have every right to return products, and sellers are obliged to accept them. However, both sides must comply with certain conditions. What is the return procedure? Who pays for the shipping? Are there any deadlines?

The deadline for returning the goods and withdrawing from the contract

After receiving the ordered goods, the customer has 14 days to return their order after withdrawing from the remote contract, which is concluded at the time of purchase. The customer doesn’t need to give any reason. The legal basis for this on the Polish market is article 27 of the Consumer Rights Act. Both parties should be aware that the deadline is calculated not from the day the goods were sent by the store or the date of the order payment, but from the date when the customer received the order. Withdrawal from the contract obliges the seller to return the amount equivalent of the ordered product. The customer, on the other hand, is obliged to return the goods to the store’s address. The cost of transport is often covered by sellers, but they are not obliged to do so.

What obligations does the consumer have after withdrawing from a remote contract?

First of all, the customer is obliged to return the purchased product to the seller or pass it on to a person who is authorized by the seller to collect it.

The buyer should return the goods no later than 14 days from the day on which the contract was withdrawn. Sometimes, the seller may offer a pickup service. In such a situation, the customer is not required to have a 14-day period.

How should the consumer return the goods?

The customer decides how they will return the goods on their own. The store cannot impose the choice of shipping. However, online stores often have better conditions and even offer free returns. The consumer is the one who makes the final decision about the return method.

It’s also worth paying attention to the return address. Many stores have a warehouse at a different address than the office. The consumer should check (for example, in the store regulations) which address is the right one for returns. If such information is missing, the package can be addressed to the general address of the company, which can also be found in the regulations.

Return costs – who pays for returning items?

In the Polish law, article 34 §2 covers consumer rights in this area, indicating that transport costs for the returned goods lie with the buyer. The buyer is obliged to pay for the shipping, packaging, or personal delivery to the company’s headquarters.

There are, however, two cases in which the seller bears the delivery costs of returned products. To meet customer needs, stores are increasingly willing to cover the costs of returns, as indicated in their regulations. In such a case, it is enough to complete the return document. The customer may receive it in the package together with the order or can find it online.

We should not pay for the return if the seller doesn’t inform us that the cost of delivery is covered by the consumer before the conclusion of the remote contract. To be certain about the position of the online store, it’s worth reading its regulations and verifying whether they include a provision that in the event of withdrawal from the contract by the buyer (following article 27 of the Consumer Rights Act), the buyer covers the costs of return.

What about cash on delivery returns?

This is a contentious issue. Although the Consumer Rights Act does not explicitly state whether the consumer can return the goods with the cash on delivery option, the interpretation of the Act allows the seller not to accept such shipments. Why is that? Then the customer sets a refund date for the seller, and, according to article 32 of the Consumer Rights Act, the seller has 14 days from the date of contract withdrawal to complete a refund. Therefore, the seller is not obliged to accept packages with the cash on delivery option.

However, sellers should not stipulate in their regulations that they don’t accept parcels sent this way. Such an entry is on the list of prohibited clauses.

14 days to return – both money and goods?

According to the Act, the entire process – i.e., the return of goods and their value to the customer’s account – should take place within 14 days. However, what if the customer sends the goods back on the 14th day? Does the seller have to fulfill their duty of refund before receiving the goods? Not necessarily. The decision-maker can postpone the refund until the receipt of the product or proof that it has been sent. However, if the seller declared that they would collect the goods in person or appoint an authorized person for this purpose, they cannot delay the refund. They must make a transfer no later than 14 days after the buyer withdraws from the remote contract.

When 14 days pass, what can you do?

In situations in which the consumer withdraws from the contract but exceeds the 14-day deadline for returning products, the seller may withhold the refund until they receive the return. The seller also has the right to claim damages. That’s because, for example, perishable products may have expired or seasonal shoes are no longer a sought-after product. However, it’s worth knowing that there is no provision, which states that withdrawal from a remote contract loses its force after exceeding 14 days.

The seller should know that if they’re seeking compensation, they can’t count on a fixed, legally determined amount. The compensation resulting from the delayed return of the refund is disputable and the seller must prove the damage, indicate the amount they have lost and, above all, prove it by showing a causal relationship between the delayed return of the product and the type of damage. That’s because even after receiving a refund on time, the seller will sell the goods with no problem at the same price.

The seller also has certain obligations, even if they receive a delayed refund. First of all, they must pay the entire amount to the consumer. Only then can they demand compensation if exceeding the 14-day period caused damage.

Returns are not a necessary evil

Consumers know their rights better, and sellers respect them more reliably. Sellers often opt for optional free returns or extending the return period to 30, 60, or 100 days. We all know that it’s thanks to simple, quick and completely free returns the eCommerce giant Zalando won the hearts of new customers and conquered the German market, followed by other European markets, including Polish.