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A woman complaining for late delivery of her online shopping order

Late arrival: What happens when your goods aren’t delivered on time

How much attention do you pay to the delivery date on something you’ve bought online? Is it a deciding factor in your purchase?

For many of us, knowing that a product will be at our front door within a week or so is an important consideration when buying, especially for an occasion such as a birthday or Christmas. So when it doesn’t arrive as promised, we’re understandably cranky.


A cranky woman checking the delivery status of her package


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is serious about delivery times too, taking Mosaic Brands Ltd to court for failing to meet them.

The consumer watchdog alleges Mosaic, which owns brands such as Rockmans, Katies and Noni B, “made false or misleading representations to consumers” that it would deliver items within certain delivery times, generally between two and 17 days of ordering.

So what is an acceptable variation from promised delivery times? And what rights do you have if something hasn’t arrived as expected?

What are advertised delivery times?

Advertised delivery times are estimates businesses make about how long it will take for you – the customer – to receive your order. These estimates are often prominently displayed on a company's website, product pages, and during checkout.

Delivery time advertisements come in many forms but some common examples include:

    • Range of days: "Get your product in 3-5 business days!"
    • Guaranteed delivery by a specific date: "Order before noon and receive it by tomorrow!"
    • A minimum order value and time frame: "Free next-day shipping on orders over $50!”

Some businesses go a step further and offer money-back guarantees if their advertised delivery times aren't met. This incentivises them to be accurate in their estimates and protects you if there are delays.

But remember that advertised delivery times are often estimates and may not account for unforeseen circumstances. So read the fine print of each guarantee as there may be exceptions or limitations.


Can you get a refund for late delivery?

Depending on how they are worded, advertised delivery times can constitute a legal promise to consumers. This is especially true if the language is clear and specific. For example, a statement such as "your order will arrive in 3-7 business days" is a clear promise regarding the delivery timeframe.

But having a promised delivery time doesn't automatically mean a guaranteed refund if your order is late. It depends on the reason for the delay and the business practices involved.

Circumstances when refunds for late deliveries are possible:
    • Unforeseen delays caused by issues beyond the business's control that they weren't aware of at the time of purchase (eg: supplier delays, bad weather), and the business offers no updates or solution (refund, replacement, rescheduling)
    • If a business takes payment with no intention of delivering or knowingly delays beyond a reasonable timeframe (more on this below)
    • If a business fails to inform you about stock availability, delivery timeframes, or solutions for delays caused by external factors.
Situations when refunds may not be possible (or difficult):
    • If you fall victim to an online shopping scam by placing an order on a fraudulent website
    • If the service disruptions are caused by a third party, such as COVID lockdowns where government restrictions acted as a third-party force. In such cases, your rights to a refund or replacement would depend on the terms and conditions of the business.

What is ‘reasonable time’?

This is the tricky part. This essentially boils down to what most people consider fair in the circumstances. Factors such as the type of product, the stated delivery window, and the cause of the delay all influence what's considered reasonable.

If a dispute arises and goes to court, judges may use past legal cases to determine reasonableness. A two-year delay, for example, may be reasonable for car deliveries but not for clothing.

How can I tell where the problem lies?

Most reputable businesses will provide a tracking number for your order. This online tool lets you see the package's journey, including its current location and recent scans.

If the tracking information shows the package progressing through the courier's network (eg: scanned at a sorting facility), the delay likely lies with the courier company.

Conversely, if the tracking information shows the package never left the company's warehouse or hasn't been scanned in a reasonable amount of time after the claimed shipment, the problem might be with the company.


A man finally receiving his delayed parcel


Flooding or other natural disasters can disrupt seller or courier services significantly. Peak seasons such as Black Friday and Christmas can also cause significant delays, which is why we recommend placing your order early to get your parcel on time.

However, even in these situations, the company or courier should be transparent about the event's impact on deliveries and communicate openly with customers. They should also strive to get your order back on track immediately.

Water bottle company Frank Green and fashion business White Fox were slammed for this reason. Customers alleged they were not transparent enough about the delays and encouraged others to keep buying despite the backlogs.

What to do if your online purchase arrives late

If experiencing delays, reach out to the company you ordered from first. They can investigate the delay with the courier on your behalf. Some may even have policies in place to compensate you for excessively late deliveries.

If you've exhausted all options with the company and are unhappy with the outcome, report the issue to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) or the Postal Industry Ombudsman if the problem is with the courier.

You can also lodge your complaint with us, and we’ll help you sort it out.