05/12/2011 04:37 GMT | Updated 03/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Online Christmas Shoppers Get An Early Start

Millions of online Christmas shoppers are placing orders early this year to avoid late deliveries, a survey has found.

Which? found that more than a quarter of online shoppers had an order delivered "later than expected" in the last year, and the consumer watchdog anticipated that late deliveries would prompt more than six million people to start their shopping early this Christmas.

Other customers surveyed reported receiving damaged goods, while 13% said nothing had been delivered at all.

One in five said their parcel had been left with someone else without their authorisation. The same number received a "sorry we missed you" note when they were in fact at home. A further 5% of consumers surveyed had returned home to find their shopping thrown over their garden fence.

Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?, said: "People tell us they've experienced real problems getting online orders delivered. The most common complaint is late deliveries. This is particularly frustrating for people who have ordered gifts online and don't receive them in time for Christmas.

"If online retailers can't meet an agreed delivery date, they must let consumers know and rearrange a delivery at a convenient time, or refund them their money."

Researchers at Verdict estimate online spending in the UK will reach £9 billion this Christmas.

Which? has issued the following advice for online shoppers: Confirm delivery dates. Use websites with guaranteed delivery dates to ensure gifts turn up on time. Check the terms and conditions before you place your order.

Pay by credit card. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act gives valuable extra protection if an item costing more than £100 and less than £30,000 is faulty, not what you ordered, or if it does not show up.

Know your rights. Retailers that fail to deliver goods within 30 days of an order must offer the option of cancelling and getting a full refund. Stand your ground. If an order turns up damaged or is faulty, you can return it to the retailer under the Sale of Goods Act.