Your Post-Christmas Guide To Refunds, Exchanges And Warranties

We spend the months leading up to Christmas in a frenzy of shopping, but some of us then spend the days afterwards trying to exchange unwanted gifts or get faulty presents repaired. Know your legal rights before you hit the stores and you're much more likely to get a good outcome. Lifehacker sums up your entitlements when it comes to refunds, exchanges and warranties.

Picture by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Australian consumer protection laws were harmonised earlier this year, which is a good thing: we no longer have to deal with a widely varying set of state laws. But that doesn't mean that retailers and individuals still don't have misconceptions about what is and isn't required.

The most important rule of all: stay polite

It's worth saying this up front: the best way to get a result when you're seeking a refund, exchange or repair is stay polite and stay calm. Getting angry and screaming is only going to raise your blood pressure and irritate the person you're speaking with. Don't be fobbed off, but don't resort to threats and yelling. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission sums up the issue neatly:

If a product that you have purchased is faulty, fails to meet the advertised description or is not fit for purpose consumers are advised to contact the business and explain the problem clearly and calmly and state that you want them to fix the problem. If the business refuses to fix your problem, ask to speak to the manager or write a complaint letter. If the business still refuses to help, contact the ACCC or your local consumer protection agency for assistance.

With that said, we can address some common and specific questions. Note that you'll invariably need to be able to demonstrate that the goods were purchased via that store before getting a refund; some retailers will offer an exchange without proof of purchase, but this varies on a case-by-case basis. Picture by seanbjack

Am I entitled to exchange gifts or get a refund because I don't like them or I already have them?

In simple terms: no. And if you think about it, that's fair enough: why should the store owner bear the brunt of an inappropriate gift choice? In practice, most large retailers offer this service as a matter of course (check the queues at the service counter at any department or discount store on Boxing Day), and others will offer an exchange if you ask nicely and the goods are undamaged. Many, though, will only offer credit to spend in the store, rather than an outright cash refund. Since in this case they're not strictly obliged to do anything at all, that's not an unreasonable outcome.

Am I entitled to exchange gifts or get a refund if they don't work properly?

Yes. All goods sold in Australia — whether through a physical store or online — must be "fit for purpose". If they're not, you're entitled to seek a remedy. For minor faults, an exchange for a functioning item is a reasonable resolution; if the item is majorly defective, a refund is in order.

Can a store refuse to offer a refund on a faulty product?

No, it can't. Signs proclaiming "no refunds" for sale or seconds items don't have any practical effect on your rights. You couldn't demand a refund on something sold as a 'second' if it had minor wear, but if it can't perform its intended task, then you're entitled to ask for a replacement or (depending on the severity of the issue) a refund.

Can a store tell me that repairs and issues have to be taken up with the manufacturer?

Definitely not. Having sold you the goods, the store is obliged to help resolve any issues, regardless of their origin. That doesn't stop them trying: Apple, for instance, continues to suggest that non-Apple goods sold in its stores become the responsibility of the manufacturer. That's not true, and Apple placing it in its store policies does not in any way allow it to escape its obligations under Australian consumer law. To be clear, you can choose to go through the manufacturer if that suits you, but a store can't force you to do so.

Can a store refuse to repair an item because I didn't purchase a warranty?

No. Every item purchased in Australia has a "statutory guarantee" attached, and service options must be available for a "reasonable time" after sale. The definition of "reasonable time" varies by product category, but anything that's been purchased as a Christmas gift and fails to work immediately or shortly thereafter is certainly going to fall into that space. A warranty (whether paid for or included) can offer additional protection, but doesn't in any way wipe out your existing rights.

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


Comments

    You may want to read the ACL that came into power on Jan 1, 2011.
    The “fit for purpose” is no longer in it, at least not in those words.

      Actually, the concept of fitness for purpose does appear in the ACL (i.e. Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth), Sch 2) - see sections 54 and 55.

    What about if the product hasn't been opened yet, can they still refuse?

      Yes, if ur returning a product, even if unopened, for change of mind the retailer has no obligation to accept it. Some do out of their store policy or courtesy, but they don't have to

      If you read the article, they specifically cover this scenario.
      But to answer your question, they don't have to do anything for you.

      As Drew said, Gus covered it.

      Plain and simple - the only scenario where a retailer has to accept a good is if it was faulty when sold.

      Keep in mind, that even if your good is faulty - it only entitles you to return it - it doesn't entitle you to to an exchange or a refund either (product repair is perfectly acceptable to comply)

      In having said that, whatever your circumstance - it doesn't hurt to ask the retailer nicely; worst they can say is no.

    In regards to "Can a store tell me that repairs and issues have to be taken up with the manufacturer?" what can you do if they still say no? As in you are aware of your rights, but the store disagrees, what is the next step to take?

      Tell them to read the Australian Consumer Law 2011, and ask for the manager.

    "Can a store tell me that repairs and issues have to be taken up with the manufacturer?"

    Dick Smith's POS system wont process some item and we are told to tell the customer to deal directly with the Manufacturer, (Canon products are one example). And the number of items processed like this are increasing.

    At a store level, our hands are tied and have no choice but to do it this way.

      I actually contacted fair trading regarding this today because of a faulty product i bought from DIck Smith. They tried to fob me off to the manufacturer, and I wasnt aware of the fact that it was the retailer's responsibility. Fair trading clarified this for me, stating that my purchase was a contract between me and dick smith, so it was dick smith's responsibility to handle the faulty product rather than trying to get me to contact the manufacturer

      Also, anon, if you say that your hands are tied, your company could potentially be violating consumer laws

        I mean hands tied in the figurative sense! but basically the POS wont compleaste the transaction. just spitting out a message saying direct customer to manufacturer.

    In terms of “Can a store tell me that repairs and issues have to be taken up with the manufacturer?”, it's sometimes worth weighing up the offer and situation. Some manufacturers have good facilities for handling warranties (others not, admittedly) and using the warranty hotline is sometimes faster and better.

      I would rather go direct to manufacturer for warrenty claims, usually you save time because you cut out the delivery time between store > manufacturer

    That's why I like Aldi, you have 60 day return an item - no question asks.

    "Can a store tell me that repairs and issues have to be taken up with the manufacturer" - And since Harvey Norman did this two me for a PC component from DLink, I have never shopped there again. Waiting 3 weeks to tell me that the part is faulty when I told them it was faulty is a load of shit. No wonder you are losing money.

    Christmas is over

    REFUND ALL THE THINGS

    Can a store tell me that repairs and issues have to be taken up with the manufacturer? YES!

    I work for a nation wide department store and we advise customers that after 14 days of purchase you must contact the supplier IF the item needs a repair. If the item is faulty then we allow up to 30 days for a exchange or refund. Also if a product is faulty and you don't have your recept we are happy to offer an exchange, most other retailers will refuse.

      Just because your store says it Nathan, doesn't mean it's legal.

      The chain you works for has a contractual obligation to take care of repairs within a reasonable timeframe of purchase, and I think you'd be hard pressed to consider 14 days reasonable.

      The idea of a receipt is becoming increasingly unnecessary thanks to the advent of online shopping and the majority of POS systems having SKUs linked even after sale, but nonetheless - keep your receipts, and tell your gifters to keep them as well!

    Dear Lifehacker, can you please write an article on statutory warranty.
    I used to work in the electronics section at a major retail store and we have had to turn down warranty repairs for items (such as expensive TVs) which were out of warranty (say by a year or two). I feel really bad that we as customers don't know our rights about statutory warranty on products we buy.

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