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Over the past 10 years there has been tremendous growth in e-commerce within Canada. By the year 2020, e-commerce is projected to reach $50 billion, representing approximately 10% of total retail sales in Canada. The main reason for this massive growth in online sales is simple: convenience. Now it is easy to make purchases from the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go via your smart phone. It is little wonder then that Canadians are increasingly turning to online shopping to purchase everything from electronics to groceries, but do you really know what you’re getting into?

In Ontario, the Electronic Commerce Act provides that agreements entered into electronically form binding contracts in the same way as written agreements. Most internet sites that sell goods and services contain terms and conditions of sale, which a purchaser will generally be bound by. These terms and conditions will cover things such as delivery times, additional costs, refund and exchange rights, and warranties. Not reading and understanding the terms and conditions of a sale might mean paying more than expected for a particular product, or not knowing when a product will be delivered.

For purchases over $50, the Ontario Consumer Protection Act, 2002 sets out certain information that must be disclosed to the purchaser before entering into the transaction. Such information includes the name of the seller and how to contact them, a fair and accurate description of the products you are buying, an itemized list of the prices, including taxes and shipping charges, a description of any additional charges, the date for delivery and the place where the goods will be delivered, and rights regarding cancellations, returns, exchanges and refunds. The information must be disclosed in a manner that it is clear and prominent on the web site, and in a form that you are able to print and retain. There also needs to be an express opportunity for you to accept or decline the agreement and to correct any errors in your order. 

If such information is not provided, you have certain rights to cancel the agreement. You also have rights to cancel the agreement if a copy of the agreement isn’t delivered to you within 30 days of entering into the agreement. More importantly, if the information is not provided, your rights as a consumer are not being respected, and you should seriously consider whether the seller is one that you want to deal with. It is especially prudent that you do not provide credit card information to an internet vendor that hasn’t provided its complete contact information on the web site.

Cross-border e-commerce is one of the most common situations in which Ontario consumers are caught off guard. A large number of US retailers do not have Canadian websites and instead sell to Canadian consumers via their American website. The purchase prices listed in such situations are usually in US dollars and do not include possible customs and duties that may be charged when the goods cross the border. This can lead to sticker shock for Ontario consumers when they receive the goods and realize that they were significantly more expensive than what they had originally been led to believe from the listed purchase price.

These types of surprises can be avoided with a little due diligence. Know the terms and conditions of the sale, ensure that you have all of the information, and enjoy your shopping.

For more information about e-commerce in Ontario, contact Adnan D. Chahbar.

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