Part of my Order is Missing. What Can I Do?

A question that pops up time and time again on the Internet is to do with unfulfilled orders from various websites. Either orders go unfulfilled, or only part of the goods that were ordered is actually delivered. People want to know what their rights are in this situation, and what remedies they can ask for – and rightly so. Well, here’s the answer.

A photograph of several invoices
Partially-filled orders are a form of breach of contract.

Your Right to Return Goods

The right to a ‘cooling off’ period, in which you have the right to cancel an order, is enshrined in the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. These regulations cover anything sold “at a distance”, which includes online, mail order, and telephone purchases.

Under these regulations, you have seven days from the date of receipt of the goods in which to return them as new, and cancel the order. There is no obligation to give a reason for cancelling the order, and you are entitled to your money back.

From the point of view of a partial order, this right to return in unaffected and you can therefore return what you have received and cancel the order outright. Of course, this will not get you the goods you are missing so if you are not put off by the fact that the company has not sent everything you ordered, there are other options.

Your Right to Receive the Missing Goods

Every order is a contract for the purchase of goods and as such, the contract is a strict document with the following express terms:

  • you will pay a certain price for the goods in question; and
  • they will supply those goods, in the agreed amounts.

Any reduction in the number of goods supplied is therefore either an outright breach of the contract or an attempt to change the terms without consultation. You are not obliged to accept any change to the contract once it has been made (which it was at the time of purchase), and may hold the supplier to the original agreement.

A breach of contract grants you the right to cancel the contract entirely, and to recover any loss endured because of the breach; which includes the cost of postage should you need to return any goods which were supplied to you. It also grants you the right to have the terms of the contract upheld, if you so desire.

When receiving only a partial order, you may therefore:

  • demand the rest of the order be supplied; or
  • return those goods that were supplied and be reimbursed, including for the cost of postage.

Your Right to a Refund

Because only receiving part of an order is an effective change to the contract, you may cancel the contract and be refunded all of your money (plus, as detailed above, any costs incurred in returning what goods you did receive) but there is another option.

Instead of returning the goods already received, you may alternatively choose to accept the changed contract, and receive a refund for the price of the goods not received. This is useful where the goods received are unavailable elsewhere, or where the goods not received can be re-ordered (possibly from elsewhere) at a later date.

It is worth remembering that when an order is accepted by a distant seller, be it a website or another form of mail order company, both parties have entered a binding contract for the supply of goods. Each party must uphold the terms of the contract, and may only alter those terms with the express permission of the other party.

Where a company accepts an order for goods but only supplies part of that order, they are in breach of the contract unless you specifically agree that they may supply only part of the order; and you are entitled to be refunded the cost of any unsent items. You are under no obligation to accept partial fulfilment of an order, and may return the partial goods if you so wish.

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