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The pandemic has accelerated the shift in our spending habits away from in-store shopping to online.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, last year’s online shopping sales in the lead up to Christmas reached a record $5.4 billion, a whopping increase of 59% from 2019.

Online shopping offers incredible convenience, and it is tempting to snap up a Christmas bargain from the comfort of your lounge room.

But it's important to remember products bought online from other countries may not always comply with Australian safety standards.

Potential risks to watch out for

All retailers are required to meet safety standards when selling in Australia, but this can be difficult to enforce across international borders.

In particular, when it comes to things like children’s toys, electronic goods and cosmetics, it pays to do your homework on safety when buying products online.

Unsecured button batteries and poorly manufactured items that break down into small pieces are swallowing and choking hazards for young children.

Other risks include products with poor labelling or instructions that result in them being used incorrectly and unsafely.

In my work, I’ve seen how an unsafe product can cause serious harm, or in some tragic cases, even death.

We don’t want to see anyone’s Christmas ruined by a faulty or unsafe product.

Safety tips for buying online

Just because you’re buying online, it doesn’t mean you can’t question the supplier about the product to ensure your family’s safety.

It’s worth asking suppliers if products from overseas comply with any mandatory safety requirements, including Australian standards.

Consumers can check the Product Safety Australia website for information about safety standards, product bans and product recalls.

Information about product recalls internationally can be accessed via the Global Recalls online portal.

For cosmetics and skincare products, you should look for items that list their ingredients, especially if there are any allergy concerns.

Online reviews can also be a good source of product information, but where possible try to look for reviews from multiple reviewers and sites.

You should make sure the product is legal in Australia, as some products like toy guns may be seized by the Australian Border Force.

Finally, before purchasing check any terms that say which country's laws apply to the manufacture and purchase of the product.

How does the law protect me as a shopper?

The Australian Consumer Law includes protections for consumers that apply equally to those who buy online as they do in stores.

This law says a seller must provide certain guarantees, such as that a product is safe, free from defects and durable.

When things go wrong, the law says you will have the right to a repair, replacement or refund, regardless of what the refund policy was.

But in reality, these remedies – including seeking any compensation – can be hard if you’re dealing with an online retailer overseas.

To have rights under Australian consumer law it would need to be shown that the seller was 'carrying on business' in Australia.

Many shoppers unfortunately find it impractical, difficult and expensive to enforce their rights.

I’ve bought an unsafe product online. What next?

If you’ve encountered a safety issue with a product you’ve bought online, you should document what occurred, including taking photos of the faulty goods and any injuries caused.

First contact the seller directly about the safety issue. If you’re unable to resolve it that way, contact the consumer protection agency in your state or territory to make a complaint or seek advice on next steps.

If you are dealing with a business based overseas, you can also try to contact the consumer protection agency in the country where they're located.

Our consumer protection work

You have the right to expect that the products you use are not defective. We've helped many people with consumer protection claims, and our experienced team are here to help.