In the sales stampede, don't forget your rights
Whether you buy goods before or after Christmas you still have rights, so take those ‘no exchange on sale goods’ signs with a pinch of salt
The prospect of bagging a bargain can do strange things to a person. As you are reading this, some poor unfortunate soul is preparing to sacrifice their Christmas Day in order to stand in a queue of one outside a department store so they can snag themselves some class of amazing deal in the winter sales.
While that person will make headlines – or, more realistically, get themselves a wry “aren’t folk funny?” mention at the tail-end of some newspaper stories on Thursday – they will be just one of the many thousands of people who will go into consuming overdrive following 48 long, spendless hours between now and Wednesday morning.
But while some will lose the run of themselves and their credit cards among the posh bags in BT’s, they won’t lose any of their rights as shoppers, despite what many retailers would like us to believe.
In the days ahead, signs such as “No refunds”, “Only credit notes given” or “No exchange on sale goods” will start appearing in shops all over the country. Ignore them. They are meaningless and possibly illegal. The National Consumer Agency will deal with thousands of queries from consumers over the next month, and its spokeswoman Karen O’Leary believes these misleading signs “add to the confusion”.
The NCA’s helpline received more than 2,000 calls from consumers inquiring about their shoppers’ rights last January. Just over 10 per cent of callers had changed their minds over sale purchases and wanted to know if the shops had to give them their money back. The short answer? No. Nearly 1,200 calls were about defective products that were bought pre- and post-Christmas.
“The Christmas sales are a very busy shopping period, and it is important that people are aware of their rights and entitlements, in case something goes wrong,” says O’Leary. “Knowing what you are entitled to means you can shop with confidence all year round and minimise frustration if a problem arises.”
While confusion appears to be rife, consumer rights in the post-Christmas frenzy are not particularly complicated. It doesn’t matter whether you pay full price for that leopard-print three-piece suit or get it at a discount of 90 per cent – it must be of an acceptable standard, fit for its intended purpose and as advertised. If it’s not, you are entitled to a repair, a replacement or a refund. End of story.
Well, nearly. You do not get to decide which of these three Rs the retailer offers, so don’t go in shouting the place down, looking for your money back when that telly breaks. They don’t have to give it to you.
If you return something because you think it is faulty, do not be fobbed off by the shop assistant. Pricewatch hears many stories from readers about shop assistants in mobile-phone shops in particular taking one look at a handset and diagnosing a problem – which is usually the fault of the buyer. Generally speaking, a shop assistant or store manager is not qualified to assess a fault so cannot dismiss it – unless you bring your iPhone in in a bucket of water. You can insist the shop returns the product to to the manufacturer, which employs people who are qualified to examine products for flaws.
While that is your right, shops cannot insist you deal directly with the manufacturer; your contract is always with the seller of the goods, although you are perfectly within your rights to go directly to the manufacturer with your problem.