If your order turns up and you feel that it doesn't match the description, isn't satisfactory or isn't fit for purpose, you're entitled to a refund, repair or replacement. However, it's worth noting that SOGA covers the retailer, not the manufacturer, so if your problem is with an Apple product your quarrel is only with Apple if you actually bought it from an Apple Store or the Apple website.
What happens if your order never arrives at all? Under the distance selling regulations, if you don't agree a delivery date then the company has 30 days to deliver; if it doesn't, then you're under no obligation to accept an alternative.
That's fine if the company is still trading, but sadly some firms do go out of business leaving their customers out of pocket. That's where Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 comes in.
The CCA protects purchases worth £100 to £30,000, but only if those purchases were made by credit card.
Under the Act, when you pay with your credit card two contracts are formed: a contract between you and the card company, and a contract between the card company and the retailer. If the retailer goes bust, it's up to the card company to honour the contract - so if you've ordered a product but not received it, the card company should reimburse you.
This protection also applies to warranties, so in the unlikely event of Apple going belly-up the day after your new iMac arrives, your credit card company is liable for honouring the standard warranty.
As ever, there are exceptions. Third parties aren't covered, so if you're buying through PayPal or a group buying site there isn't a direct relationship between the card company and the actual retailer: getting a refund in those circumstances means going to court.
Money Saving Expert reports that some customers are even finding Section 75 claims rejected when they've bought from Amazon sellers. Gift vouchers aren't covered either.
Section 75 isn't the only form of protection you have. Visa, MasterCard and American Express run a chargeback scheme, which means that users of debit cards and people whose credit card purchases are below £100 can get some protection too. Chargebacks must be made within 120 days of a problem and the scheme isn't covered by any legislation, so if your card issuer tells you to get stuffed you can't take them to court.
You're happy with your purchase. It turned up on time, worked perfectly and didn't go on fire - and then a few months later it starts blasting ectoplasm at you. Who you gonna call?
Before you call anybody, it's important to identify what the problem is. Consumer protection legislation covers product faults, but it doesn't cover butter fingers or botched upgrades - so if you've cracked your iPad on a slate floor or unsuccessfully modded your Mac then the best bet is to contact your friendly neighbourhood Apple repairer and hand over a fistful of notes.
It doesn't cover consumables either, and that means it only covers MacBook batteries if a problem occurs ridiculously early in their lifespan.
If you think your product has developed a fault, step one is to contact the retailer. Under SOGA, if a product is less than six months old then it's up to the retailer to replace, repair or refund the purchase. They can't just say, "Well, it must be something you did," and they can't refuse to do it if you don't have a till receipt: a credit card statement or even a PayPal payment confirmation (if appropriate) can be used to prove that you purchased a product.
After six months things get more difficult, because under SOGA the burden of proof now moves to you. In practice we've found most retailers to be perfectly fine with six months-plus problems, but if your one is being difficult you may find it easier to turn to the warranty.