When is a .ie website not a .ie website?

Our love for online shopping has made our shop window on the world vast, there is almost nothing we can't get delivered to our door. But, Brexit has changed things and there are many horror stories of relatively cheap items being subjected to charges by suppliers and even couriers. But, we’re good once we buy from a .ie domain, right? Wrong!

Just because a website ends in .ie does not mean the company is based in Ireland. Many of the big brands have a .ie presence, same as they do a .co.uk, or a .de. Any business can register for a .ie domain once they have a "real and substantive connection to the island of Ireland and proof of identity" and even if they aren’t based here they "may still be eligible to register a .ie domain" if they "sell goods or services to consumers or businesses in the island of Ireland and can provide evidence", that’s what the .ie domain registry says. It’s legitimate and permitted, so, it's best to do some basic research before you buy online.

The easiest way to find out if the business you are buying from is genuinely Irish and based here is to check certain parts of their website, the Terms and Conditions section will most likely give you clarity on that, there may also be clues in the 'About Us’ or ‘Contact Us’ sections.

In the first two months of 2021 there was huge confusion, some retailers had charges applied incorrectly, some people had to pay taxes which they are entitled to refunds for. So if you were one of those people it might be worth your while querying if you are entitled to a refund. Revenue has some good advice and it's worth checking it out

The biggest issue, apart from charges or taxes, are your rights as a consumer. If the .ie owner is based in The Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland or an EU country then you are automatically entitled to EU consumer protections. But if the .ie company is based in the UK or a non-EU country you are not automatically entitled to those rights and seeking a solution to any issues might not be straightforward.

Even if a company from outside the EU is selling products into the EU, they are technically duty bound to offer rights such as the automatic right to return an order within 14 days without giving a reason. They are also duty bound to give a full refund for a defective product. But that's the technicality of it, the practicality can often be very different. Those rights are not guaranteed, and enforcing them can be tricky when they are outside the EU.

The issue of additional charges and taxes is driving consumers crazy, we’ve heard some horror stories of people being asked for €70 charges for an item that cost €30, even if it has come from within the EU.

Most reputable companies will tell you upfront what the likely charges could be, but if they don’t and you are hit with a charge on the doorstep, you have the option of saying no and refusing the delivery.

Contact the seller and tell them because you were not informed about the charges you don’t want them, and, seek a refund. If you are buying from outside the EU, then expect charges, they are applied by revenue and customs and are genuine.

Beware of so-called handling charges from couriers or charges being applied by suppliers that aren’t explained. If in doubt, ask.

The European Consumer Centre here offers advice on rights and is a good place to go if you want clarity about what your rights are, or if you’re having an issue. They’ve given some good advice for people shopping online and they have a very good checklist pointing to problems on the horizon.

They say don’t press BUY if:

  • There is no identifying information whatsoever about the retailer behind the website.
  • The Terms & Conditions seem to be a standard template text with no actual business details.
  • You search online for the address listed on the website and it does not seem to exist on any maps or it points to something else altogether. 
  • There is no information on delivery terms (lead times, shipping method, etc.). 
  • They don’t respond or won’t confirm where goods are shipped from.
  • There are no returns or redress options policies. 

The best advice is to stay with Irish or EU sellers, if possible. If you need to go elsewhere be aware of the potential charges and issues.

Remember your bank could also be useful if you think you’ve been treated unfairly by a seller outside the EU. You can raise a transaction dispute with your bank. It’s more commonly known as chargeback and it means the bank reverse the charge which was applied to your card if there was a dispute, if the goods were not delivered or if you were charged twice.

Some banks or card types apply a time limit on how long ago the transaction may have been. It might be a last resort, but it can often mean you get your money back if you feel you’ve been stung.