Ask LH: How Can I Score A Refund From An Overseas Online Store?

Ask LH: How Can I Score A Refund From An Overseas Online Store?

Dear Lifehacker, Last year, I bought a Nike+ FuelBand online. I absolutely loved it, but the button has now broken, making it virtually useless. I know I should be entitled to a repair or replacement under Australian consumer law as that’s a “major failure”, but Nike won’t help because it doesn’t sell them in Australia.

Unfortunately, the online store I purchased it from has not responded to any of my attempts to contact them. What else can I do? Will contacting the ACCC or NSW Fair Trading help? Any advice appreciated. Thanks, Fuelled By Rage

Dear FBR,

The simple answer: if the actual operator of the site isn’t based in Australia, unfortunately there isn’t much you can do. You’re correct that the consumer law applies to the sale in theory and that it’s the seller’s responsibility to deal with defects, but there’s not much that can be done in a practical, legal sense to enforce that right with an offshore operation.

As consumer regulator the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) dryly puts it on its site:

If you buy from an online seller based overseas, you should be aware that you may experience practical difficulties in obtaining a remedy from them.

If the site you purchased from is operated by an Australian business, then complaining to the relevant fair trading body in your state definitely makes sense. For an overseas operator, while it’s worth persisting with sending complaint letters, and possibly complaining via Twitter and other social networks, you probably have to face the fact that your device is now a dud.

The lesson? While buying online can be useful both in saving money and obtaining goods that haven’t been released here, it does increase the risk slightly. For pricier goods, it’s worth hunting around to find an online store with an Australian base, even if they are shipping grey import items. That gives you a greater level of protection.


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  • Buy another one, cancel it on your credit card.

    Probably best to sign up for a credit card with another institution and then cancel the account, so it hopefully doesn’t negatively affect your current one. Consider shipping to parents or friend’s house if you want to shop from the same store in the future.

    • Yeah, a free fuel band seems worthy of committing financial fraud..

      I lost interest where they said they bought it last year.. While perhaps within Australias usual forced 12 month warranties, this is definitely well outside MOST countries 6 month (if any) seller warranties vs merely manufacturer warranties.

      That said, manufacturers are ALSO required to support their products.. I would talk to Sony as they obviously have Sony Australia.. Chances are they only buy their stock on consignment from their parent manufacturing arm though, meaning they would likely not support overseas serial numbers.. That said, quite often if you get a friendly rep they don’t even check such things..

      There are always homegrown repair shops that can replace most types of buttons for but a few bucks ($20-50)

  • I buy internationally a lot.

    I’ve found that *many* businesses will deliberately send international customers restocked faulty items because they know there are no comebacks.

    -Sometimes you can afford the risk.
    -Sometimes you can judge the character of the seller.
    -Sometimes you can appear local by using a payment method from the country in question, and a freight-forwarding service.
    -Sometimes you can get an assurance in writing that if you’ll pay the shipping they’ll honour a return.
    -Sometimes a local seller’s price-gouging is a tolerable tradeoff.

    If you can’t do any of these, bruising is likely.

    Also remember that there is a high burn-in failure rate on particularly complex items, e.g. motherboards have a 15%-25% return rate, even the really good brands. You’re extremely brave if you import your motherboard.

  • I think online shopping has been around long enough that people should know the good e-tailers from the shonky ones. Definitely check reviews of the website/seller, including social media, as well as the product.

  • Last year? When last year? Is it still under warranty? Sounds obvious but have you tried contacting the manufacturer?

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