Consumer myths you need to be wary of

Knowing your rights can save you money and needless heartache. Here are some common misunderstandings of our consumer entitlements

1. I can always get a refund if I change my mind once I keep the receipt

A shop is never under any obligation to give you a refund or exchange on any item just because you have changed your mind. While some do have policies which permit such carry on they are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts – or, more likely, because they feel it makes sense in the long run to keep shoppers happy – rather than out of any legal obligation.

2. If a product is faulty I can always get a refund or a replacement

Retailers have a legal responsibility to make sure what they sell is as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. If it is not one of these things then they must offer you a refund, a repair or a replacement. But they get to choose which of the Rs is offered to you and more often than not they will try and fix the product before doing anything else.


3. I can’t return a product because I don’t have the receipt

You don’t actually need a receipt when you are returning something. All you need is proof of purchase. A receipt is the easiest way to prove you bought something in a particular store but a bank or credit card statement will also work.

4. My rights are diminished during the sales

During the winter and summer sales it’s not uncommon to see signs warning that absolutely no refunds will be permitted on sale items.

It is perfectly understandable that retailers – anxious to be shot of old products – would rather you didn’t return anything bought during a moment of Sale Induced Psychosis but signs of this nature break the law. It doesn’t matter if you pay full price or get 98 per cent off, you have a right to expect what you buy to be of an acceptable standard, fit for purpose and as advertised. If not you have the right to get it repaired or replaced, or to get a refund. No matter what the sign says.

5. I am more vulnerable when I shop online

You are actually much less vulnerable when you shop online – as long as you exercise a degree of caution and commonsense. For a start, you have a 14-day cooling-off period which kicks in on the day the product arrives by post. You can send any order back for any reason as long as it’s not perishable or made to your personal specifications and once you have the packaging. Once the product is returned the seller has 14 days to return the money. There are some exclusions including concert and airline tickets.

6. Once a manufacturer’s warranty expires, that’s it

No it’s not. Under European Directive 1999/44/EC, every country in the EU must ensure a retailer is liable for “non-conformities” which happen within two years of purchase. The Sale of Goods Act gives you even more power and covers goods for up to six years depending on what it is. If a washing machine or sofa, for example, falls apart through no fault of your own five years after you bought it, you can seek to have it replaced or repaired by the retailer rather than a manufacturer

7. The company I bought something from has gone out of business without sending me the product. I am snookered

You might be if you paid cash – in that case you are an unsecured creditor and have to take your place at the bottom of the pile. If, however, you pay for something with a credit card you are in a better place. Chargeback rules mean if shop goes bust before you get what you paid for, you can make a claim against the credit card provider instead of the supplier.

8. If something is priced for less than it should have been, I can get it at the lower price

No, no you don’t. If you find something which is incorrectly priced you have no legal right to buy it for that price as long as the sales assistant working the till spots the error in which case they can refuse to sell it to you for that price. In law the price on the shelf is viewed as an “invitation to treat” – effectively the retailer is asking you to offer that price for their product. When you do, the retailer can choose to accept it or not.

If they notice the mistake before cash changes hands, then no contract is in place and they can simply take it off you despite your howls of protest. If they don’t notice the mistake and the sale goes through, however, then the transaction stands. Shops can be fined and otherwise penalised for this kind of carry-on but if it is a genuine error, than consumers are not allowed profit from it.

9. If you buy shopped soiled or second hand you lose your rights

No, if you buy from a retailer you retain your consumer rights to redress if the product is not as it should be except when it comes to specific problems which have been highlighted to you before you make the purchase or in cases where the fault was blindingly obvious at the time of purchase.

This changes if you buy from a private seller who does not make a significant portion of their living selling items.

10. I have to deal with the manufacturer

Your contract is always with the retailer, not the manufacturer. You should always take faulty items back to the shop where you bought it and make them deal with the problem. Having said that if you want to deal directly with the manufacturer, that is your legal right as well.

11. Product descriptions have to be accurate

Sometimes they do but more often they don’t. Words like organic are clearly defined in law but traditional, hand-carved, artisan, home-made, farm fresh, natural and local are all utterly meaningless when they appear on packaging – or at least they can be.