The holiday season is almost here. For many of us, it is our favourite time of year as we rejoice in merriment with friends and family and also give and receive gifts. This means that it is a busy period for both retail outlets and consumers as shoppers hunt for the next ‘bargain’ or rush around trying to return or exchange our unwanted gifts.
In the rush of the Christmas and New Year sales, logic and reason and the normal rules of etiquette go straight out of the window as we wrestle with one another to get our hands on sale items or that last minute Christmas gift. Basic rules of courtesy such as civility and the traditional British queuing system are examples of normal conventions that no longer seem to apply in this, the crazy season.
But normal rules do still apply: Both in terms of manners as well as the basic law of consumer protection. Many people think that consumer protection law is not relevant to them during the sales either because they bought the goods in the sales (and the rules are somehow different) or because they received the goods as presents and did not pay for them themselves.
This is not correct.
Consumer protection law sets out your rights and it is important that we as consumers are aware of what they are. If you are unhappy with your goods or they do not work, you should be aware of and exercise your consumer protection rights as fully as possible.
We can’t ask Santa for refunds – Well I guess you can ask – But the thought of St Nicolas and Rudolph rushing through the snow on New Year’s Eve with a sack full of refunds or exchange vouchers doesn’t fill me with confidence – Instead, I have learned to rely upon everyday solutions as enshrined in our statutory rights, guarantees and warranties to solve any problems and to make sure I am fully protected.
Thank you but the sweater you got me is too small – Can I get a refund?
We have all received gifts that we don’t really want. Most of us would be surprised to learn that this on its own is not a good enough reason to get a full refund or even to exchange the gift for something else.
There are three situations where consumers can automatically return a product and receive a full refund. These arise when the item purchased is:
(i) Faulty or
(ii) Not fit for its purpose or
(iii) Different to the way it was described when sold to you.
These rights are known as the ‘statutory rights’ of consumer protection as contained in the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (The Act).
The Act is extremely important for consumers and I always recommend that everybody familiarise themselves with it. Shops are legally obliged to sell you products that are in good working condition, that match the exact description of the advertisement and carry out the specific function they are bought to perform.
In other words, these rights exist to protect consumers regardless of the seller’s own terms and conditions or what the back of the receipt says.
Sellers do have their own separate terms and conditions but such terms are entirely separate to and operate independently of your statutory rights as consumers. (You will have noticed receipts and notices at shop tills stating ‘These terms do not affect your statutory rights’.)
If you believe your statutory rights have been breached or are unhappy with an item you have purchased or received as a gift, contact me to discuss what your next step should be.
‘Can I get a refund under the warranty – Did you read the fine print?’
The sale and purchase of an item creates a legal relationship between the seller and the buyer. However, many high value or high-tech goods, such as cars, laptops, televisions and mobile phones come with a ‘manufacturer’s warranty’ which introduces a third party (the manufacturer not Santa) into the legal relationship.
Manufacturer’s warranties do not give you the same level of legal protection and are limited to the specific remedies stated in the warranty itself. A manufacturer’s warranty may protect you if your high-tech gadget develops a fault in the first six months or the first three years from the date of purchase.
But as we all know, it can be a nuisance and inconvenient to contact the manufacturer who may well be located in another country or even another continent. On top of that, being able to correctly identify the precise cause of a fault in a sophisticated piece of electrical equipment and proving that it was indeed a manufacturing fault is hard to do as most of us know little about the mechanics of how items (especially high value or high tech goods) actually work.
Often in these situations shop keepers will try to tell you to go away and claim on the manufacturer’s warranty. But do not do as they say. It is easier and faster to rely on your statutory rights as I have explained above. It removes any room for argument and you can get a refund or exchange straight away without having to write to another company on the other side of the world.
Know your rights and stand up for them!
It is not only important to be aware of your statutory rights but also warranties attached to your purchase as these are the tools under which your rights as a consumer are protected.
I ordered goods online and they haven’t arrived – Can I get a refund?’
The need for online consumer protection has become paramount. Nowadays billions of pounds worth of business is conducted online. Consumers, looking for a time efficient way to shop are logging on to buy everything from groceries, clothing, holidays and even cars.
If you purchase a Christmas gift online, you are already at a disadvantage as you are unlikely to have seen the actual product you wish to purchase. In addition, the seller may dispatch the product from a warehouse so even he has not seen the physical condition of the item bought.
Your protection as consumers in these types of situation involves a mix of your statutory rights as explained above, any applicable warranty and the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 (‘Distance Selling Regulations’). These Regulations can protect you.
For example, as a customer, you are legally entitled to a ‘cooling off’ period (usually seven days) from the date of the online purchase to cancel the transaction. When you buy online, the seller must clearly notify you in writing of this right. If they do not, they may be in breach of the regulations and should at the very least be reported to the Trading Standards Institute.
If you already received the item and still wish to cancel the sale within the cooling off period, you would have to return the item unused – this is important to remember in the case of high-tech products as these goods, or their component parts, may need to remain in their original wrapping and packaging. You must always read the terms and conditions of the sale as these are additional to your statutory rights.
Tell us about your experiences
We all know that shopkeepers can be difficult to negotiate with when you return to their shops with faulty goods. Tell us if you have ever struggled to get an exchange or refund or if you feel that your rights under consumer protection law have been breached. What obstacles have you faced with shopkeepers, manufacturers or sellers operating online?
Education is the key here – Those of us who are fully informed of our rights are in a better position to protect ourselves. We can rely on our rights enshrined in statute or produce a guarantee or warranty from the manufacturer. We can even protect ourselves online.
For the rest of us, I guess the question “does Santa do refunds?” is a real consideration. After all, if you don’t know what to do in these situations, you might as well look to the skies for help – Listen carefully… Do you hear the sound of sleigh bells?
No… I thought not