Consumer detriment

What is consumer detriment?

Consumer detriment is defined as the harm or loss that you, the consumer, experiences when the goods or services you purchase through e-commerce do not meet your expectations. This can relate to matters of quality, performance or delivery conditions, unfair contract terms or when you have to pay more for a product than what you could have reasonably expected.

Consumer detriment can also be “hidden”, meaning you have experienced detriment, but you're unaware that it occurred. Examples of hidden detriments include situations where you may have been deceived into buying an unwanted or unnecessary good or service (e.g., an unnecessary car repair) or when you've overpaid for a product (e.g., buying a more expensive product than required).

The COVID-19 pandemic and the transformation of e-commerce availability and new technologies means consumer detriment has become a real issue for all consumers.  

To help you better understand how consumer detriment is affecting Canadian consumers, we've summarized data from a recent study undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development's (OECD ) Committee on Consumer Policy that looked at measuring financial consumer detriment in e-commerce. For an overview of the report's key elements, please visit our Consumer detriment findings page.

How does consumer detriment affect Canadians?

The OECD study found that:

  • Nearly half of Canadian consumers experienced financial consumer detriment when shopping online
  • Current redress options do not sufficiently resolve the problem
  • Canadian consumers lost an average of 4.2 hours resolving online purchase problems
  • Most consumers trusted the online seller prior to the purchase and just over 20% of Canadian consumers were willing to use the same seller again, even after the problematic purchase

Action taken by consumers and helpful resources

Canadian respondents in the OECD study were the third highest percentage of consumers (12%) who had taken no action when encountering an issue, only behind Israel (13%) and Japan (15%).  An even smaller portion of Canadian consumers take action by complaining to a government body or public consumer organization or association (5%). It's important for you to know that there are things you can do when something goes wrong to try to address  consumer detriment that you may be experiencing following the purchase of a good or service.

  • Make a complaint to the seller, provider or delivery company
  • Ask the seller or provider for repair, replacement or refund
  • Cancel the purchase of the good or service within the time allowed
  • Return the good or terminate the service
  • Purchase a replacement good or service or repair it at your own expense
  • Leave a review or comment online
  • Ask the seller/provider for a compensation for damages and losses
  • Withhold payment for the good or service
  • Make a complaint to a government body or public consumer organization or association
  • Take the case to court or to a lawyer
  • Engage in an out-of-court dispute settlement/alternative dispute resolution mechanism

For more information on how to shop online safely and reduce your chances of experiencing consumer detriment, visit the Office of Consumer Affair's Online shopping page.