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I bought a £16 dress it costs £13.50 to return it to China - is this lawful?

I recently bought a dress from the website SheChic, which I originally thought was a British company. 

I didn't like it when it came and although the terms and conditions said it can be returned for full refund, I discovered to my horror that it had to be returned to China at a cost of £13.50.

As the dress only cost in the region of £16, that was out of the question. They have now offered me a 40 per cent refund to keep the dress but since I don't like the dress, it is of no use to me whatsoever.

Is it lawful for them to send items out from a UK address but insist that they are sent back to China?

Returns: Is it lawful for a company to ask a customer to return a dress to China at a high cost? 

Grace Gausden, This is Money, replies: It is annoying enough when you have to return clothing you were excited about receiving – but to then be told you have to return it to China at considerable expense is very frustrating.

As you spent just £16 on the dress, it makes sense that you won't want to return the dress if it costs £13.50 to do so – you are likely to make more money be selling the dress on yourself.

However, you are protected by consumer rights, which are put in place to ensure that those spending money are treated fairly.

Your rights will depend on whether you are returning the item because there is a fault, it was not as described or you just don't like it.  

Under the Consumer Rights Act, you are able to challenge unfair contract terms.

In the first instance, if you think a contract term is unfair, you should complain to the trader. However, if the trader doesn't agree, it is recommended that you seek legal advice before breaking the terms of the contract.

If all else fails, it is possible to escalate the complaint and take the trader to court who will decide whether a term is unfair.

Consumers should think carefully before taking this route, however, as it will take a lot of time and hassle - in the case of a £16 dress, it is likely not worth the trouble. 

Shock: One This is Money reader was shocked to learn it would cost £13.50 to return her dress

John Davies, lawyer at Slater and Gordon, replies: Online shopping has grown in popularity in recent years due to its ease and convenience. But it doesn't come without its problems - especially when you are dissatisfied with the product you have purchased.

SheChic does have a return and refund policy which can be found at the bottom of its website but it rather unhelpfully doesn't give a postal address. The policy does however state that the return shipping costs are to be paid by the buyer.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, if goods are found to be defective, the trader must bear 'any reasonable costs' of returning them, but if you are simply returning something because it doesn't fit or you don't like it then that is unlikely to meet the 'defective' criteria.

There is nothing to stop customers requesting a refund for the shipping fee as well as the cost of the product but if the company agrees it will be a gesture of goodwill rather than any contractual obligation to do so. 

You could of course challenge this but that is likely to cost far more than the price of returning it.

When purchasing any item online it is always wise to check the company's own return or refund policy to see what costs may be incurred before you buy.

Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Expert, replies: Shopping online is the new normal, and not only convenient but often offers a wider choice of products at the best prices. 

But it can be really difficult for shoppers to tell if they are shopping from a retailer based outside of the UK, and harder still to be aware of the potential pitfalls of buying from one.

Retailers based overseas but actively marketing to a UK audience must comply with the consumer protection laws here. This includes adhering to rules on when a customer can return a product. However, there are other issues to consider, particularly when it comes to delivery and returns.

In this case, it seems the dress was purchased from a company based in the US, and while it was shipped from a UK-based warehouse, that doesn't necessarily mean returns can be sent to the same address.

Many online retailers use 'fulfilment centres' to send products to their customers, however they may not be equipped to deal with and bear the cost of returns, which could include a customs fee.

As the dress was simply unwanted, under UK consumer law you have 14 days from receipt of it to cancel the order, but the retailer is under no obligations to fund the cost of returning it.

So it is important before purchasing from any retailer based outside the UK that customers check the returns policy, as they could be required to pay for international returns costs. If unsure, it is always worth contacting customer service to clarify.

Grace Gausden, This is Money, adds: Luckily, in this instance, it was just a £16 dress that left you out of pocket. 

Whilst this is still annoying, it would be far more frustrating if it was a more expensive item as you would be more inclined to splash out for the return postage. 

Although the seller should have made it clear that, if an item was due to be returned, it may have to be sent overseas, it seems that you may have to bear the cost in this situation.  

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