- 14 Dec 09, 08:55 GMT
Thinking of getting a new mobile phone for yourself or as a present this Christmas?
Well, here's a piece of advice you might want to read before you buy it in a shop. It turns out that you often get more leeway if you buy online or on the phone rather than on the High Street.
I learned this when the friend of a friend rang me in high dudgeon last week. She was due an upgrade, had gone into an Orange store to seek advice - and walked out with the Sony Ericsson Satio.
A few days later, she realised that she hated the phone - and that's probably a pretty common experience these days when the look and feel of the operating systems of these sophisticated mini-computers are key to the experience.
But when she rang the store to ask if she could exchange it, she was told she was stuck with the Satio - there was no "cooling-off period" for handsets.
I called Orange to check this out - and learned about something called the Distance Selling Directive, which was implemented by the UK back at the beginning of the decade.
It gives added protection to consumers who buy products on the internet or over the phone, and in particular guarantees them a cooling-off period in which they can withdraw from a contract for any reason.
But when you buy in a shop, you don't have that protection - once you've bought the phone and signed the contract, you're there for the duration, unless the equipment is faulty.
Orange said it was no different from other operators in applying the rules in this manner, and after a ring-around, that does appear to be the case.
Until a few years ago, many shops did offer a cooling-off period - then one operator said it was ending the practice and most of the others followed suit.
One retailer explained that if you open up a phone and turn it on, it then becomes second-hand goods, and has to be sold as a refurbished phone at a lower price - so you can see why they would be unsympathetic to customers who had simply changed their minds.
I did find three operators - O2, Virgin Mobile, and Talk Mobile - which still offered a cooling-off period to customers who bought in shops.
But as far as the rest of the industry is concerned, the message appears to be clear - go to the shop to try out a new phone, then head straight home to order it online.
Now it's confession time. I wrote this and then headed straight to a shop to buy a mobile phone for an 11-year-old. But it's his first phone, and if he doesn't like it, I have a Christmas message for him - tough!
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