When ordering goods online, consumers are given a special right to cancel the resulting contract. However, this is not the case if the product has been customised to suit their needs. We explain the rules on distance contracts and the right to cancel.

Right to cancel: no right to return customised online goods ©-cirquedesprit-Fotolia
Right to cancel: no right to return customised online goods ©-cirquedesprit-Fotolia

Right to cancel an online purchase

Ordering goods online has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that it is easier to compare products and save money as a result. One disadvantage is that there is no opportunity to examine products before making a purchase. To compensate for this, consumers have the right to cancel an online purchase contract.

The basic position as regards online consumer goods is that they can be returned free of charge within two weeks of receipt.

A judgment by the Düsseldorf Regional Court demonstrates one of the exceptions to this rule.

An online trader offered various sofas for sale on their website. Customers had the luxury option of choosing from 17 different colours. Sofas could also be ordered in two colours or as a mirror image. As a result there were over 578 different designs to choose from.

One customer noticed the disadvantage to this plethora of luxury options when they attempted to cancel an order within the regular time limit (judgment from 12.02.2014, case ref. 23 S 111/13).

Customised goods

The court ruled that on the circumstances, the consumer was not permitted to cancel the order. This is because the product had been customised to the consumer’s specifications. Such goods are exempted from the distance-selling rules relating to the right to cancel.

The seller was therefore protected by § 312d(4) no. 1 German Civil Code. This paragraph prevents consumers from returning customised goods. The justification is that businesses would incur great commercial loss when attempting to resell a customised product.

Avoiding problems

Consumers should be aware that the right to cancel an online purchase can be excluded in certain circumstances.

Where customised products are desired, it may be better to purchase them in person from the shop.

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