‘No Warranty’ And Other Lies Retailers Tell

Tiny stores and global corporations alike delight in making claims such as “There’s no warranty on that product”, but in Australia those statements are flat-out wrong. Our Consumer Power Week series continues with a look at your actual rights when it comes to warranties and refunds.

The sign you can see pictured is from an Australian store. Those kinds of displays aren’t uncommon; many look more ‘official’ and carry the brand logo. But whatever the format, they’re peddling a fundamental untruth: that the store can always decide the circumstances under which you receive a refund and can declare that products have ‘no warranty’. Australian consumer protection law says otherwise. Let’s review those untrue statements.

“It’s store policy not to offer refunds”

Not in Australia it isn’t, sunshine. As the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) makes clear on its site that explains consumer rights, the specific circumstances under which a refund has to be offered are well-defined. If there’s a minor flaw with a product, the retailer can decide if a refund, repair or replacement is the most appropriate option. If there’s a major flaw — something that is so crippling that you wouldn’t have purchased the item if you had known about it — you get to choose. You can ask for a replacement item, but you can also ask for a refund, and the store can’t refuse it.

Retailers can offer a policy that’s more generous than the law requires; many large chain stores will happily exchange goods given as gifts if the recipient already has that item, for instance. They’re not obligated to do this, but many see it as a way of maintaining customer loyalty. The key point is that stores can go beyond the legal requirements, but they can’t ignore them.

“There’s no warranty on that product”

Everything sold in Australia has what is known as a “consumer guarantee”, which means they are of an acceptable quality, fit for a specified purpose, and match their description. When that’s not the case, you can demand a remedy (repair, refund or replacement) no matter what a sign in the store says.

Of particular relevance here is the ACCC stance on seconds or marked-down goods. The regulator explains it clearly:

The guarantee of acceptable quality still applies to imperfect goods or ‘seconds’. Where a seller alerts you to any defects before the purchase, you should inspect before you buy to make sure you are still happy to go ahead. Otherwise you may not be entitled to a remedy.

Again, retailers can choose to offer a specific warranty that’s broader than the basic consumer guarantee, but they can’t ignore those requirements or dodge them with a “no warranty” sign.

“You’ll have to contact the manufacturer”

This isn’t an uncommon claim; Apple, for instance, has regularly wheeled it out when consumers have issues with non-Apple gear purchased from Apple stores. It’s not true, or acceptable. If goods you have purchased aren’t up to scratch, the seller is obligated to deal with your request, not fob it off to a third party.

Consumer rights come with responsibilities. You can’t demand a refund purely because you have changed your mind; you can’t say a product is defective if its flaws were clearly indicated to you before you purchased it. But shops can’t sell you goods without taking responsibility either.

The most important lesson? Make sure the goods suit what you want them for, and seek assurances on any points you’re not clear on. If you’re buying online, take note of salient features in the item listing (and take a screen grab). An informed consumer has a better chance of being a happy consumer.

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

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