‘No Warranty’ And Other Lies Retailers Tell

‘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.


    • Actually the holiday surcharges in restaurants are also illegal (sort of). Restaurants aren’t allowed to charge a flat “#% surcharge on public holidays” however if they print a new menu with different prices on that day (even if its the exact same food on the menu) then that’s fine. At least that’s the law in NSW, not sure if other states are the same.

      • I thought this recently reverted back to the old law; whereby restaruants could, in fact, write at the bottom of their menu: “#% surcharge on public holidays”?

          • I don’t understand why they have it at all. In SA, (at least), people working in hospitality don’t get paid any more for public holidays so why charge more? The operating costs are no higher for a public holiday, so it’s just a rort!!

          • Only casuals don’t get paid more on public holidays. FT or PT staff should all get a higher rate on these days.

        • a new menu in QLD is required by law on public holidays if you wish to increase the price of an item for a public holiday. simply saying everything has a 10% surcharge is not valid. Also all counter menus and mounted ones need to be covered up to avoid idiot customers being confused.

      • My understanding the rule is national (ACCC enforced).

        I was told by the ACCC that if the % surcharge came up, ask the establishment for a replacement bill. If they refuse offer to pay the correct amount (ex surcharge) and if they still refuse to issue you a correct bill – just walk out.

        Fixed $ surcharges are still ok, as are replacement menus.

        • I’d love to see what LH has to say about this one; I’ve always thought the “15% surcharge on public holidays” on the bottom of the menu in tiny-tiny type was a bit of a bait-and-switch. If LH tells me it’s illegal, I will be happy to pass that one to restaurants (one at a time!).

        • It’s not illegal, just immoral (and stupid) businesses should actually budget for the cost of public holidays. It’s not like they come out of the blue. What is illegal is having a sigh saying “15% surcharge due to the Holidays Act (or whatever)” Since the act doesn’t mention surcharges

          • Correct. They cannot have blanket “15% surcharge on public holidays” messages and not advertise the loaded price, they need to have the full price printed and quoted on the menu so people don’t have to do the math. You know what I hate? If this is the case for hospitality, why do places get away with charging a “X% surcharge for credit card payment” without having to publish the full price? I don’t disagree with the charges – just the ACCCs approach to them.

      • The law was changed back to the original law. They can now put the percentage surcharge at the bottom. The extra cost with new menus was sending some cafes broke. And since it was only a new law, business owners could have had a claim against the Government for making their costs higher once they started their business.

  • I almost enjoy it when I am told of store policies that are against the law.
    A combination of “put that in writing” and “that policy is against the law” has only failed to work once. See the staff or better still, the manager squirm!

  • Most of the places that I’ve run into that do this sort of dodgy stuff do it knowingly; that makes it even worse. At least the ACCC has the stones to crack down on it.

    • Can you expand?
      I’m sure a retailer can suggest you contact a manufacturer in the event of a faulty product, but the retailer is obligated to take steps to resolve the issue if asked.
      My understanding is that it all gets a bit murky though the longer the time since purchase. You start to get into what’s a “reasonable” amount of time for the item to have been used before it fails.

      • I believe you’re thinking of if the equipment fails past the ’30 day warranty’ – some retailers will tell you ‘tough cheese, pal’ and that is what that particular ruling is about.
        A reasonable amount of time differs from product to product, but you would expect a brand new fridge to last beyond a year, for example.
        Some retailers take advantage of this ignorance, and try selling extended warranties which usually cover the same period you would normally be covered by law.
        On the other hand, if you are not the argumentative or persistent type, this type of warranty will give you piece of mind and extra leverage.
        At the very least, you have options.

    • No the retailer is obligated under law to deal with it if the customer chooses. Some people choose to deal with the manufacturer, and that’s their choice. But they don’t have to.

  • How does this relate to underwear, socks and headphones?

    I’ve lost ocunt of the number of times i’ve been warned at the checkout “there is no refund or exchange ont his product for health/hygiene reasons”

  • And what exactly do you do if the retailer doesn’t accept your rights? Its not like the ACCC really has any power to prosecute the offending retailer on your behalf…. You have to do that yourself and the retailer knows this, and therefore knows you won’t go through the hassle and continues to make the claims. Yay progress.

    • unfortunately you just have to rely on the fact that some people will go to the effort and that the ACCC themselves will go out of their way to prosecute some places to scare the retailer into complying chances are even the most complaciant “im right and better then you” jackass will crumble at the thought of management or ACCC being called even store managers fear corporate overlords

      i had a long term incidence with Telstra with no solution being offered to me, until i went in there demanded the manager, told them i was writing everything down, taking names etc, solution gained in under an hour

  • This is what I love about this country. When I was in Hong Kong the policy is once the product is handed to you, that’s it. If it is a POS it’s your problem.

  • Sometimes going back to the manufacturer is a better option though. My girlfriend’s Kindle from Big W died. They didn’t tell us to go back to Amazon, but demanded some proof of purchase which wasn’t the standard online invoice ( it was purchased online). I think they wanted the physical shipping tag which is pretty outrageous, given they have the entire transaction and shipping event recorded electronically and linked to a credit card which I still have, so the only possible reason to do this is to make consumers give up in frustration. Of course, one call to Amazon, and they shipped us a new one with no quesions asked – we just had to send (postage paid) the dead one back within a month.

    • I agree. I find some of them will just turn around and ship it to them themselves at a time that suits them. It just adds an extra pair of hands to the process and removes your own visibility of the process.

      Depends on the item and store but.

  • I’ve been in the situation with the handball to the manufacturer a few times and always made the argument above, but my favourite is when I was standing at the counter at Target listening to another customer argue with the employee about the same thing. After a few exasperated minutes, she said “I’m a lawyer and I can tell you that what you are doing is illegal – go get your manager and I’ll tell him the same thing”. It got fixed pretty quickly after that! 🙂

  • Thing is, in general situations it’s not up to the customer to determine what is a minor flaw and what is a major flaw and in most cases it is not up to the in store staff either especially in the case of expensive electronic equipment.
    In these situations customers tend to be irate when told that their product has to be sent off to be checked out before they can get a refund or replacement ,however this will be standard policy for most large sellers as not all customers are willing to be truthful and upfront about what has been done with their device (everybody lies).
    Essentially while it may be true that major flaws dictate a refund/replacement it is up to the company behind the retailer to decide what constitutes a major flaw not the customer.

  • Except if you buy from GraysOnline. No warranty on ‘auction’ items. Even if they are incorrectly described and unsuitable for the purpose described (or so they say)

    • Well they’re a second hand dealer so they come under different rules than a retailer, everything at auction is usually sold as is and it’s clear that they do not write the descriptions of the items the owner who put them in did and they’re going off what they were told. Well that’s at least how our local auction house works 🙂

  • Something should be done about manufacturers who sell/advertise goods with “international warranties” that are not honoured outside of the country of purchase. I’ve run into this a couple of times with laptops and cameras. The warranty implies comfort against risk when travelling, when the reality is that the manufacturer’s agents simply refuse to treat any service, repair or replacement as a warranty issue due to it being bought in another country.

  • The signs written in permanent marker are not legally binding?

    Surely they are? Anyone who’s gone through high school or even visited a public toilet must understand this.

  • What about the ‘store policy’ to check your bag?

    And I like how people freeze when the beeper goes when they walk out a store. You have absolutely zero obligation to stop.

    • Hahaha I just keep walking, I know I haven’t stolen anything and that their stupid machine is either retarded or just beeping at me for something I already bought.

    • At my old job we were asked to do bag checks, most of the time people would open up their bag and show you before you would even ask them too. If we asked someone and they refused, then we would remind them it’s a condition of entry to show their bags upon exiting, and that next time they’re welcome to leave their bags with us at the front. If they still refused, then we just smiled and said good-bye. Management/Training Staff were always very clear that we had no right to look in or touch their bags if they refused.

        • You probably can.
          And probably should if you’re buying a Twilight box set.
          Otherwise, it’s hardly a hassle to let them do so and help provide a visual (but maybe not effective) appearance of trying to combat theft which ultimately would lead to higher prices for Twilight (or whatever).

        • No – there are signs at the front of the store advising that it’s a condition of entry that you allow your bag to be checked when you leave. If you enter the store, you’re agreeing to those terms.

          • Well, I wouldn’t be so sure, from Cal’s comment above, it looks like the right to inspect a bag may not actually be enforceable.

  • Simply saying you’ll be talking to the ACCC or consumer protection over a dispute will cause these dodge companies to pull their heads in I’ve found.

  • I had this issue with a Games store who sold me Call of Duty with a remote control car.. the car didnt work and because the product was in high demand and they didnt have any more stock they told me to call the manufacturer, being in WA there was never a convenient moment to call them and so I went back and told them it was unacceptable and to replace it… after a small argument with the manager who had to call her boss in the head office (she complained because she didnt want the return to reflect badly on her store) i got a replacement. I really shouldnt have to deal with that when i purchase a brand new product

  • I’ve had a tricky issue at a music store I work at – we are an Apple reseller, but we sell very, very few machines. We do have one on display as a demonstration model for the software and hardware we sell and one machine may stay in our store for over a year. If this gets sold as a necessity, then as far as Apple is concerned, there is no warranty as the warranty starts from when the computer is turned on the first time. Everything else we sell, even if it’s a display model, warrant starts from the date of purchase.
    In this case, if the computer develops a fault after a month, what can we do? Well, at one point I think we actually had to pay for the repair on behalf of the customer.

    • You actually have to give warranty by law if you sell a product. Doesn’t matter if it is an ex display model or not. It has not been used by the person you are selling it to and as a business you are reselling the product that the manufacturer gives a warranty with. Display models are hardly given a hard life (apart from maybe cosmetically from a lot of play) but like examples Harvey Norman, Dick Smith etc, they are mostly screen locked with a specs screen locked up so a consumer doesn’t even have a chance to play with it. So there is literally zero wear and tear on the item, only different is, it is already out of the box.

  • The ACCC must have field officers out patrolling this scum and fining businesses displaying or portraying their anti-law BS. The fines should be sufficiently heavy to discourage and stop the behavior. Not those pissy $1,000 fines, more like $10,000. This will promote the ACCC and show they are really protecting consumer rights and give consumers greater confidence !

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