Rory Cellan-Jones

'Cooling-off' for mobile phones? Not on the High Street

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 14 Dec 09, 08:55 GMT

Thinking of getting a new mobile phone for yourself or as a present this Christmas?

ShoppersWell, 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!


  • Comment number 1.

    Very annoying it is too. 10-15 minutes playing with a handset (or worse, a dummy) in a shop with pushy sales staff hanging on to your arm is no way to find out if you like a handset. The real test comes after you have got home, really start exploring and using the functions. We're not all iPhone slaves.

    Whilst you can see why the retailers don't do an exchange programme, it hardly builds loyalty in a retailer.

  • Comment number 2.

    This must be a new policy, at least for Vodafone, because I remember buying a Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 from a Vodafone high street store when it first came out. They did offer me a cooling off period, and after a week, I had decided I didn't like it, and that no network coverage at my home was too much of an issue. I took it back with no quibbles at all. I think this was around January this year, iirc.

    I'm about to buy a new phone, so after reading this artice, I think I shall make sure to purchase it online.

  • Comment number 3.

    @ Rich.

    If you have no coverage at home, Vodafone will allow you to cancel, but not i you just don't like the handset. It's in the small print on the back of the contract.

  • Comment number 4.

    This isn't really an article about technology but consumer rights. The reason you don't get a cooling-off period if you buy from the shop is because you get a chance to see, hold and play with the goods first to ensure they are what you want - something you can't do with a remote purchase.

    What would make an interesting follow-up article would be where you do purchase on-line or over the phone then try and get a replacement under the DSR. All too often in this country vendors get their way and consumers get the shaft no matter whose favour the law falls on.

  • Comment number 5.

    I bought a new phone in store from Vodafone a couple of weeks ago and to be fair the person who I was dealing with told me about this well before any contracts were signed.

    I think as long as they let you know about it then it shouldn't be a problem. Though on the other hand why should a mobile phone be any different from buying any product from any shop, as you can usually return something within a couple of weeks if you're not satisfied.

  • Comment number 6.

    I used to work for a network in retail. Customers do get a 14 day 'cooling off' period when taking a new contract. When 'upgrading' the idea is that customers are already happy with the service they are buying - though quite honestly it is rather daft that they're expected to be stuck with a handset they've seen for 2 minutes. Sure, if it's faulty there's a 28 day period to exchange the handset, for the same one.

    If people aren't happy though, ask to speak to a Manager in store - or, even better WRITE to the network's customer services department - it tends to get results. Policies are there to be twisted when needed.

  • Comment number 7.

    I found this when i recently went to get a new phone. All the shops i went to said "No Cooling off period" and a "24 month contract". I walked out of every shop and the found o2 where i had 14 days cooling off and an 18 month contract.

    If i hadn't found o2 i would be sitting here now not owning a mobile phone....

  • Comment number 8.

    @6 James

    What a perfect example of my post…here is someone whose job it was to advise people yet they are not fully aware of the law. No doubt through no fault of their own but by deliberate bad training by management. The 14 day cooling off period does not apply to in-store purchase. If the phone is faulty I could indeed get an exchange, or I could get a refund and purchase another phone of my choosing, and there isn't a 28 day limit on this process (the vendor's responsibility goes far, far beyond 28 days), however to get a refund you'd have to communicate that the phone was faulty within a reasonable time. After 28 days I can still get the phone exchanged or repaired if it suffers a manufacturing fault.

    It is far too common in this country for vendors to misinform consumers of their rights.

  • Comment number 9.

    @Aidy - Valid points, but what I said is what staff are trained to do.

    Yes, the vendor's responsibility does go far beyond 28 days but after that point the processes change - the vendor isn't required to replace straight off as you walk into a store and will undertake to repair handsets etc - they will only give a new handset/different model as a last resort because of the cost involved. As I mentioned before, the impression the networks have is that you're renewing to a service you're happy with. Whilst they will act as agents, they will also hold the manufacturer responsible for handset as far as they can to minimise that cost. Personally, yes, it's not right - and yes, consumers aren't informed to the full extent. It's precisely why I haven't purchased a phone on the high street in years, choosing to deal direct so that I can take advantage of distance selling regulations - and used to make a point of informing customers that they might be better dealing direct (which as you can imagine didn't go down too well with my employer).

    The law does need to be broadcast with clarity so that customers are made aware of their rights. But at the end of the day, if what was being done was illegal then surely after many years the practices would have been ended. Perhaps it's the law that needs to be looked at and clarified.

  • Comment number 10.

    '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. ' Not true. I got stitched by Orange into buying a contracty, with a phone thrown in as part of the deal. When it arrived, the phone was damaged with a big crack in the screen. I complained to Orange, who did nothing about it, but reminded me that I was still legally obligated to pay the £25 a month contract. After a year - when Orange made it perfectly clear that THEY were happy with the status quo - I cancelled the Direct debit and ignored the subsequent solicitors letters. Nevertheless, this little 'wheeze' perpetrated by Orange cost me nearly £400 - which was all pure profit as I had no opportunity to actually make a call. Needless to say, I now boycott all things Orange

  • Comment number 11.

    The question I'd like answered is why Rory Cellan-Jones is getting paid (from our TV Tax money) to write this blog, when he's apparently unaware of something that's common knowledge to just about everyone else.

    What exactly are the qualifications to write on "technology" for the BBC? My 6 year old would like to apply, but I fear he may be too savvy to make the grade.

  • Comment number 12.

    I still find it amazing kids need mobile phones. Maybe I am turning in to an old prude but I think an 11 year old shouldn't be worrying about mobile phones...

  • Comment number 13.

    You should try logging a complaint with Orange - because they don't actually have a complaints procedure.

    Cooling off period or not, they're still a disgrace to the industry.

    Once you're locked into that contract, they're perfectly within their rights to stick two fingers up at you if they so wish, regardless of your issues.

    My advice for potential customers would be to research these matters before you sign the contract. That said, an independant mobile phone industry watchdog/ombudsman would also be a big help for this and all similar issues.

  • Comment number 14.

    Have you ever seen a refurbished phone being sold at reduced price? I haven't so I wonder whether retailers really have this practice. I'd have thought they'd just put everything back in the box and reseal it, then charge full price again.

  • Comment number 15.

    Seems fair to me. It's up the the consumer to take responsibility for their spending, and try before they buy. Yes in store demonstrations could be better - but really, take a friend or someone who knows their stuff (like you would if you were buying a car, and you knew nothing about cars) and you'll be OK.

  • Comment number 16.

    Whilst you can see why the retailers don't do an exchange programme, it hardly builds loyalty in a retailer.

    Why should they try to build loyalty? Next time you need a new phone in 2-3 years time you will go to the cheapest place anyway just like with a car sales.

  • Comment number 17.

    Who buys there phones in a shop now anyway? Isn't that a little old fashioned in the "digital revolution" ? I hate annoying sales people pressuring me into a buying something. Ideally they should just be there to just answer questions as required and not make me feel uncomfortable.

    Thats on my last purchase I spent considerable time looking at mobile phone review websites before going through and making a purchase. I got the iPhone 3G (frustratingly the 3GS was released just 2 months later) however I haven't regretted buying the iPhone or doing it through a website. I had 14 days to return it to o2 if I were unhappy.


  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    As with all purchases it is a case of caveat emptor.

    I consider this article to poor.

    The journalist has failed to highlight that if a mobile phone shop mis-sold a product then the Contract is of no Lawful Effect and consequently the Comsumer is entitled to a refund regardless of the distance selling regulations.

    As Darren in reply number 3 highlighted if you subscribe to a Mobile Phone Service and there is no coverage in your area then on the basis of NO SERVICE NO FEE the Phone Operator can not charge and this is reflected in the small print of Darren's Contract.

    bizarredanish wrote "(Orange) reminded me that I was still legally obligated to pay the £25 a month contract"

    Really? Orange are Legally Obliged to provide the Service that they Contracted to provide. Remember NO SERVICE NO FEE.

    I had a similar problem with Orange where they failed to provide me with Services agreed. After 18 fruitless months I evoked my Rights under the Direct Debit Gauarantee Scheme and instructed my Bank for such (although my Bank did not like having to perform this task and their dilatoriness resulted in an additional goodwill payment). Accordingly 18 months of Direct Debit payments made to Orange have been refunded to my Bank Account. I am still waiting for Orange to Invoice me with the correct amount for Services Provided over the 18 month period.

  • Comment number 21.

    This is what puzzles me, I don't for the life of me why people expect a cooling off period when they buy a mobile phone be it PAYG or Pay Monthly from a network. You go to any retailer such as Curry's or Comet and they don't offer you a cooling offer period if you don't like the 52' Plasma you bought because you find it not user friendly.

    A lot of retailers especially clothing offer 28 Day return/exchanges as a good will gesture, as clothes can be put back on sale as unused unworn etc. It is not a statutory right!

    To further elaborate why networks don't offer 14 day cooling off periods. When you go into a store you have every chance to inspect the handset and make sure it is to your satisfaction, you are given the options in front of you to make an informed decision. Admittedly sales people are pushy but it is their job in which to do so. I don't think its fair to expect them to be all pally if you aren't going to buy anything from the store and waste their time. If you want a cooling off period then go online or over the phone, since the product isn't demonstrated to you, you get the 7 days in which to "inspect" the product. More often that not as well it works out cheaper online!

  • Comment number 22.

    This is technology! Some of these posters have missed the more important point is that any equipment that has to be operated should be pleasant to use, and should be better to use, or easier.
    Just to produce a piece of kit that needs a degree to turn on is pointless. And mobiles/smartphones are such a personal item they should be good to use and feel. And they should be instinctive to use.

    As for the shops, well who would trust them for a good deal?
    One step above bankers in the trust stakes for good advice in my view.........

  • Comment number 23.

    @bizarredanish #10: Why did you not simply reject the goods as of unsatisfactory quality? The Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended by the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994) still applies whether you used a shop or bought online. If you kept the phone and carried on paying for it, you accepted it.

    However the article is about simply changing your mind. It's never been a legal right to get a refund or replacment if you change your mind having bought the item in a store. Many retailers do offer that service, but none are obliged to.

    Sales assistants are usually on commission, but it's counter-productive to alienate your customers! If pushy salesmen pressure you into a decision, walk out -- and tell them why and what you're going to do instead. Either use another retailer or shop online where you DO have the right to change your mind.

  • Comment number 24.

    About 5 months ago I bought a toshiba tg01 from orange. It was the day of the release so there was no proper shop handset to test. I was offered a customer out the box handset to test but no Internet was available. As the internet surfing was the main reason for buying it was a show stopper if it didn't work properly. Upon signing what was presented to me as a form confirming my details I was bound to a contract.
    Only a few days later was the top shown to me on the contract when I tried to return it stating no 14 day money back. I can honestly say I really didn't see any print on the top of this form when I signed. So it must of 'accidentally' got covered up.
    No amount of displays of unfunctional software would 'convince' the store manager the phone was faulty. After 3 weeks of determined visits to the store I managed a break-thru. I by-passed the store manager. I got a full refund and the case was closed. I did still get a hefty bill for the usage of the phone for 3 weeks when I tried to return it after 2 days.
    What really annoyed me was there was no indication of this change in policy, no sign in the shop of the returns policy and no verbal indication of the returns policy. Most of us are in a lengthy contract, perhaps staying as long as 3 years as in my case, without upgrading the phone. So policy changes in the shops were certainly not made aware to me.
    Anyone saying oh well read everything before you sign is over-simplifying matters. When one assumes everything is as it was before why would you think its changed? I'd returned handsets to shops before on 2 occasions without a problem and they weren't faulty.
    The smugness of the store manager was infuriating. Finger-pointing to the bound contract. No consumer rights of a 7 day return and refund.
    So when he had to call me to say 'oh its all been worked out' 24 hours after I sent a letter to the head office, it was a very sweet victory.
    The handling of this was horrifying. I felt violated to be bound into a £30 per month contract for 2 years with a phone I hated after 1 day.
    Needless to say I will never buy a handset from a shop again. I wanted to never go to Lemon service providers again either but they've merged with T-mobile which was where I upgraded my current phone.
    I got an escape after some real determined fighting. I told the manager I won't give up so I still gloat with my victory.
    I'm hoping this article informs everyone the current situation of buying a mobile phone these days in a shop. I bought mine over the phone and confirmed that there was a 7 day return no quibble policy.

  • Comment number 25.

    I know we are not all iPhone "slaves" as the first poster put but Apple Stores offer dozens of working phones to test and a 14 day returns policy (even for iPhones on Orange). Not all shops treat their customers with disdain.

  • Comment number 26.

    I work for a cetain mobile phone retailer and it's interesting reading different people's experiences and opinions.

    Unfortunately most networks no longer offer a 14 day cooling off period when you purchase through a store, but increasingly more online store's are now getting around the distance selling act by putting a disclaimer on the product.

    They state if you open the box and turn on the phone then you are accepting the goods and cannot return it on the basis you don't like it.

    This pretty much takes away the major advantage of purchasing online.

    I personally make sure any customer I serve is fully aware of the returns policy.

    @14 - I can assure you if you look on certain retailers websites, you will find 'clearence' handsets. These are refurbished.

  • Comment number 27.

    I bought some 'soft' toilet paper the other day rather than my usual wax stuff. I didn't like the way it felt so i took it back to the shop and they refused to exchange it. OUTRAGEOUS. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    It seems to be an all too familiar story. One question I have, does a mobile phone retailer have to legally inform you of their returns policy if it is separate from the contract you sign for the network provider in store?

    I signed a contract in store after usual all smiles I'll be your new best friend sales patter but when I worked out costs at home I realised it was more than we would be paying over same period on our original pay as you go after taking an average cost for previous year. I phoned retailer and network provider 3 days after signing (over a weekend) but before I was connected and they both said there was a no returns policy which was the first I knew about it. It turns out the policy isn't mentioned in the contract terms and conditions that i signed but is infact in the retailers terms and conditions which wasn't put infront of me? Is this illegal or just downright underhanded?! I'm still trying to get the contract cancelled without cost to me because of this ommision.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    I suggest that everyone follows this advice - read lot's of reviews of the phone(s) you're interested in, go to a store and try them out and then order one on-line so you can try it out at home with a cooling off period. I recently got an HTC HERO on an upgrade deal but couldn't do it through my operators website only through a well-known high street store - I tried it out in person at the store and then ordered it on-line on the stores website. Luckily I love the phone so won't be sending it back but did need a few days playing with it to be sure. Buying in-store is really just giving in to salsperson pressure.

  • Comment number 32.

    It's always in the best interest of the retailer to supply the buyer with a flexible returns option - whether it's an agreeable after-sales policy or a no-nonsense refund, it's important for sellers to realise that satisfying their customers post-purchase will almost always lead to retaining their business in the future.

    The cooling-off period is an excellent example of how retailers would do well to keep the buyer-seller relationship alive in the event of repeat business. These days it's all too common to take home a shiny new[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]mobile phone, decide that it's really not your cup of tea, and be stonewalled by bureaucratic returns policies that sour your feelings towards the company from whom you bought it. In your mind the brand suffers as a result, and word of mouth will ruin them for others. It's of the utmost importance that companies try and do more to help out their customers; surely another sale in future would offset the cost of selling off a returned phone at a lower price?

  • Comment number 33.

    Interestingly I have just been advised over the phone that O2 do not offer a cooling off period to O2 Business customers. I am looking to move from a Nokia E71 but really not sure I will like the iPhone (due to lack of keyboard).

    Wanted to cover my option and be able to return it - the call centre chap told me I wouldn't be able to return it.

    Might have another go now I understand about the Distance Selling Directive.

  • Comment number 34.

    Hi Rory,

    I hope he liked his mobile phone! I have to admit that I've been stuck in a similiar circumstance however in todays modern world, you can usually try an emulation of the handset and read a couple of mobile phone reviews and quickly conclude if the phone is for you or not.

    Of course - some of us like to touch and feel etc but us die hard gadget users just want nice usability and tons of features.


  • Comment number 35.

    I was cold called by 3 mobile the end of last week. I had been thinking of getting a new phone for a while, but just didn't know where to start to look to be honest. Tooo much choice. So this seemed fine and ideal. I was promised that if there were any problems or I wasn't happy then I had a 14 day cooling off period where I could cancel the contract. Obviously I assumed this meant I would be able to test the phone? Or why would I need 14 days?

    Anyway the phone arrived, I contacted Orange, my current pay as you talk provider. They offered me a far superior package to saty. I explained that 3 had already sent me the phone, and i'd opened it. He said as long as its still in excellent condition this does not matter.

    Plus 3 's reception is dreadful at home. Orange is much better.

    i contacted 3 to explain and to say the signal was no good. also that Orange had offered a far better package. Then I was asked if I had used the phone for any cross network calls or messages. I said no. I had sent 4 messages to my boyfriend the night before to try the phone, he's on 3. Also I used the mobile to contact 3 instead of my landline and paying ridiculous costs.

    At this point he said I was unable to cancel my contract.

    I spoke to his manager and they confirmed I can not. Using the phone had voided the 14 day cooling off policy apparently. Although this was not explained when I was informed about the policy by 3.

    When they sell you the phone I believe they mislead you. Apparently they include terms and conditions in the phone. There are that many I cant see anything specific to my issue.

    Are 3 correct? can I cancel this??

    Help and advice would be much appreciated. I really do not wish to spend my hard earned money now on 3!!!!

  • Comment number 36.

    I much prefer buying online! The sales staff are very annoying and pushy, especially in phones stores.
    I have found t-mobile offer the said "cooling off" period, which is good but even with phone upgrades you can get a far superior deal over the phone or online.
    I always make a point to [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] search online for the best phone deals as I have found many networks offer discounts, cahback and free products online and it saves he hassel of travelling into a store and getting pestered!

  • Comment number 37.

    Certainly this is something to be aware of. The long distance buying directive is good news for online mobile sites like mobile phones but not so good for the high street retail equivalent. When times are hard, getting refunds does get tightened, since it is not a necessity from the store, but a customer service action. If their profits drop, then their customer service for returns on phones can of course change.


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