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Online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic

Article provided by SEESA

With the COVID-19 pandemic leaving its mark on all forms of “normal”, the pandemic has forced the world and more specific, consumers, to think and rethink the way they go about their daily lives and activities.

It is of utmost importance that consumers know what their rights are when transacting online. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced consumers to purchase their essential goods via online platforms due to the fear of contracting the virus while visiting essential goods retailers.

The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act makes provision for certain rights to protect consumers.

In terms of Section 43 of ECTA, online suppliers must provide consumers with sufficient information on their websites, including but not limited to their full business name, physical address and an adequate description of the goods or services being sold. Consumers may cancel the online purchase agreement within 14 days should the supplier fail to comply with Section 43.

Cooling off periods for online purchases

Consumers are afforded a 7-calendar day cooling off period in which they can cancel the transaction without penalty. The consumer may, however, be held liable for the cost of returning the goods to the supplier. This right, however, is limited, and it should be noted that certain goods are not covered.

Consumers should especially take note of the following rights provided by the Consumer Protection Act:

Refunds and returns

At the direction of the consumer, a consumer may in terms of section 56 read with section 55 either request a repair, replace or refund should the goods which they have purchased be defective. Section 55 of the CPA sets out certain requirements which goods should conform to. Consumers are entitled to goods which:

  • are reasonably suitable for the purposes for which they are generally intended;
  • are of good quality, in good working order and free of any defects;
  • will be useable and durable for a reasonable period of time, having regard to the use to which they would normally be put and to all the surrounding circumstances of their supply; and
  • comply with any applicable standards set under the Standards Act, 1993 (Act No. 29 of 1993), or any other public regulation


Suppliers are obligated to ensure that the payment method used is secure. A supplier will be held liable if a consumer suffers damages due to making use of an unsecured payment system.

The consumer should however not be ignorant of the above mentioned as every matter will be dealt with on its own merits.

Some online shopping tips:

  • Only make use of trusted brands who are transparent in their dealings;
  • Keep track of your bank statement;
  • Use two-factor authentication methods. The OTP (one-time PIN) method is a safer way in authentication;
  • Transact on secure websites. Make sure to look for the lock icon which is displayed on the toolbar;
  • Make use of secure payment systems who are transparent;
  • Should you be required to create an account, make sure to use strong passwords;
  • Be on the lookout for too good to be true deals.

Consumers should be weary of the fact that due to the national lockdown some suppliers will not be allowed to deliver the goods. Even though you will be able to order the goods, it will only be delivered as and when it is permissible. Not all is lost, essential goods can, however, be delivered, it is important to ensure that the retailer is an essential supplier.

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