The Christmas tree has come down and a new year has begun, but many of us will have one pesky job left to do: return or exchange those Christmas presents that didn’t quite hit the mark.
Shoppers may also be returning more than just Christmas gifts: online shopping grew 45 per cent in the year to 31 November, with Australians now figuring out how to return items of clothing that didn’t fit quite right, or products that weren’t what they hoped.
If you are planning to return or exchange an item, here’s what you need to know and the signs that you’re being taken advantage of:
Returning because it’s faulty
If you’re returning an item that’s faulty or isn’t of an acceptable quality, you can take it back to the retailer and request a repair, refund or replacement.
This applies regardless of whether you bought the item on sale.
When it comes to getting a refund, the most important step is to do your research so you understand, and can quote, your consumer rights. That means reading up on Australian Consumer Law, or checking out a guide, like consumer advocate group CHOICE.
“If an item is faulty, you don't need to return it in its original packaging (despite what retailers might try to tell you). You don't throw your refund rights away with the box,” CHOICE said in its resource.
“You don't necessarily need a receipt, either – proof of purchase is enough.”
It’s also critical to remember that you can claim a refund from the retailer you purchased it from – even if they claim you need to request the refund from their supplier or manufacturer.
But if you’re returning a faulty item by post, you’ll want to keep your postage receipts so you can claim those from the supplier or retailer.
What if they have a ‘no refunds’ sign?
“Signs stating ‘No refunds’ or ‘No refunds or exchanges on sale items’ are unlawful,” the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said.
These signs can mislead consumers into believing they can not access a refund – even if they’re returning a faulty product. Signs saying “no refunds after seven days” or “exchange, repair or credit only” and “no returns on swimwear” are also all illegal.
The same goes for “expired warranties”.
“Your rights under the consumer guarantees do not have a specific expiry date and can apply even after any warranties you’ve got from a business have expired.”
In fact, CHOICE warned Christmas shoppers to steer clear of extended warranties, noting that they generally replicate or underplay consumers’ existing rights.
“They’re a sales trick to squeeze more money out of you that ignore your existing rights under the law.
“If someone tries to push an extended warranty on you, ask them: ‘What does this give me beyond the Australian Consumer Law?’” CHOICE consumer rights expert Julia Steward said.
Returning for change of mind
If there aren’t any faults with the product, the rules are a bit different.
Most online retailers will have fairly flexible returns policies, given the nature of their businesses, although shoppers need to know the change-of-mind returns deadlines.
Some items like jewellery, swimwear, beauty and grooming products will also have other rules depending on whether the item is sealed or unsealed, if they’re being returned due to a change of mind.
Generally, however, retailers aren’t obliged to offer a refund simply because a shopper has changed their mind and may instead offer a store credit or an exchange.
That means it’s important to check the policy before purchasing and find out if you’d be entitled to a refund, store credit or exchange and whether it needs to be in its original packaging.
Refund or no refund
You’re entitled to a refund, repair or replacement if the item is faulty or damaged, you were sent the wrong item, size or colour, the item doesn’t work as you would expect it to – for example swimwear that loses its opacity when wet, or the item is significantly different to how it was advertised.
But you’re not entitled to refund, replacement or repair if you have simply changed your mind, decide you don’t like it, if you bought the wrong size, found the item cheaper elsewhere or you bought the product while knowing it had a fault.
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