CHOICE: JB Hi-Fi & Harvey Norman Among Aussie Retailers Stuffing Up Consumer Rights

CHOICE: JB Hi-Fi & Harvey Norman Among Aussie Retailers Stuffing Up Consumer Rights

Maybe you’ve never had a bad experience returning a dodgy TV or gadget. Good for you! Unfortunately, very few of us fall into this lovely demographic and have endured the run-around from both online and bricks-and-mortar stores. Turns out almost half of Aussie electronics retailers are guilty of having staff with no idea of what rights consumers have.

Image: Brian Turner / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

The results of a recent “shadow shop” by consumer advocate CHOICE showed that “nearly half” of staff at stores including The Good Guys, Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi knew very little about the “basic rights to a refund for faulty products”.

It’s great if you know what’s what — in fact, you should make sure you’re educated before even attempting a return — but ideally, salespeople should be knowledgeable, trustworthy and helpful when it comes to handling returns.

Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case. From CHOICE’s investigation:

CHOICE’s shadow shoppers posed as customers looking to buy a big-screen TV priced between $2000 and $3000 and asked if the store would take the TV back to get it repaired if it broke down around two years after purchase.

“We found 48% of the retailers contacted failed to offer our shoppers their basic consumer rights, which is a staggering failure rate so long after these consumer protections were introduced in Australia,” says Mr Godfrey.

“Under the Australian Consumer Law you can return a faulty TV to the store or contact the manufacturer for a reasonable period after the manufacturer’s warranty has expired.”

The CHOICE report also found the following as the “most common failures by the salespeople”:

  • They couldn’t go to the retailer, only to the manufacturer
  • The TV would not be covered as the manufacturer’s warranty or the voluntary warranty period is expired
  • The store would accept the TV but any repairs would be at the shopper’s expense
  • They would only be covered if they purchased an extended warranty

Harvey Norman got a special mention, with six of the retailer’s stores earning themselves a mention to the ACCC.

The most staggering — though hardly surprising — statistic is that only five percent of salespeople didn’t try to sell a warranty along with the purchase. I know, I know — clearly someone doesn’t want their Christmas bonus this year!

Do salespeople understand consumer law? [CHOICE]


  • My daughter had an LG 55″ TV. Because of FIFO they only live in their house for 1/3 of the year and about 2 months after the regular warranty period ran out the TV lost all picture to the screen and wouldn’t change channels.

    They took it to the local TV repair gut=y who said that he can’t see what was causing the problem and simply suggested buying a new TV as it would undoubtedly be less than whatever he’d have charged to eventually replace about 3/4 of the TV to ‘fix’ the problem.

    So we contacted LG directly. At first they dodged and weaved a bit trying to claim warranty expiration etc but after a few emails slowing escalating the problem within LG Australia they agreed to send out a technician to have a look at it at their cost.

    He said it was the TV’s motherboard that was the issue. The rest of the TV was fine so LG agreed to replace the parts for no cost in order to “maintain good customer relations” (uhuh…yup…)

    So,it took about 2.5 months of hassle and persistence but at the end of the day you can get a successful outcome to things like this. So just stick with and refuse to go away. The companies don’t need the bad publicity of you telling all your friends and them telling their friends etc that ‘XXXXX company are bastards…blah blah’

    • Was the 2.5 months of hassle, drama and arguments, whilst not having a TV, worth the saving of just buying a new 55″ TV seeing the old one was over a year old and prices now can be so low? Especially for a FIFO worker?

      Now I only like changing my TV every eight years or so (judging from the memory of my last two) so i can see the consternation in having one fall over so soon after warranty, but if I were in their position I likely would have just cut my losses. We shall see in about 15 months as my just-bought LG will be in that position then ;).

      • They had an older, smaller 42″ TV to use while the other one was being fixed. So they still got their daily dose of Bold and the Beautiful, Masterchef and the Rugby during those months

  • I think there’s a couple of reasons behind this phenomenon of retailers not being on the ball when it comes to consumer rights.

    Firstly, it appears that many consumers are not aware of their rights either. This puts retailers in a position to cynically take advantage of this, particularly through the sale of unnecessary extended warranties. You sometimes hear jokes about “built-in obsolescence”, where products fail shortly after the warranty ends. In fact, under our consumer laws, it is almost certain that the retailer would still be required to remedy the problem. People need to be educated that their rights do not expire on the same day as the warranty, and also be prepared to assert these rights where necessary. It also needs to be made absolutely clear that any warranties or protections the retailer or manufacturer offers are in addition to, not instead of, the provisions available under consumer law.

    Secondly, the retail sector is heavily casualised in Australia. For many, retailing isn’t their ultimate vocation – it’s just something they do while working towards something else. As a result, retailers may be (understandably) reluctant to invest heavily in training someone who may not even be there next week. A hazy knowledge of both consumer rights, and depressingly often, the products themselves is a likely consequence of this. Perhaps it would be beneficial for the ACCC to produce a standard information package outlining consumer rights that must be given to all retail workers upon recruitment. Ideally, it would say in bold at the top of the page “the information in this package overrides anything your employer may tell you”.

  • I’ve had a manager at Harvey Norman literally say while being recorded that he doesn’t have to follow the consumer laws.

    Tried reporting it to consumer bodies but nobody really gives a shit, only option is to take it to court ourselves, be nice if these bodies weren’t useful.

  • And the comment upvote/downvote functionality is still broken!

    Wake up Lifehacker and fix it.

  • I know from where I’ve worked when we try to push a customer back to a manufacturer it’s through our personal experience. Some manufacturers basically ignore the retailers and have no channels set up for after purchase support via retailers, while they have a glowing customer side after purchase support system.

    We’re not being arseholes by telling you to contact the manufacturer when we know they’ll take months to get it back to us, but if you contact them directly you could have it back in 10 days. Obviously this isn’t the case with all retailers at all times, but it isn’t clear cut you’re being ripped off as the article implies.

    At the end of the day if you give your out of warranty product to the retailer, it takes a while, you get annoyed and call them every day, and the manufacturer is useless at telling them anything or getting back to them, there’s just too many steps in that chain. You aren’t the manufacturers customer at this point, the retailer is. Just because you have a consumer right doesn’t mean it’s going to be the best course of action every time.

    • I’m glad someone bought this up. It should be mentioned that store staff are less likely to assist you if your first course of action is irate complaint. You’re handing staff a significant task that will not be prioritised over customers making enquiries and purchases. I know at least Dick Smith had minimum goals before any commission was paid. Losing hours on the floor can lose you a large amount of your income, and I would confidently call bullshit on anyone who says they would prioritise the former.

      Contact the manufacturer and you make your life easier.

      Having mentioned Dick Smith, I’m curious if their staff performed any better..

  • “Under the Australian Consumer Law you can return a faulty TV to the store or contact the manufacturer for a reasonable period after the manufacturer’s warranty has expired.” “for a reasonable period” sounds kind of nebulous, what exactly is a reasonable period of time?

    • I think it’s purposefully vague because a reasonable period on a $6,000 TV with 12 months warranty would be considerably more than a $500 TV with 12 months warranty. All it means is there actually is no solid consumer law that retailers and manufacturers have to follow.

      • exactly this, it’s not that sales staff don’t know what consumer rights are – it’s that there aren’t simple established processes to deal with anything out of warranty.
        edit: meant to reply to your previous post.

    • It is assumed at the life expectancy of the product.

      For example, it is assumed that a car would be functioning for at least 5-7 years. Perhaps even up to 200,000km. If your car was to have an engine failure at 4 years, with 30,000km on the meter, it would be assumed that this should be covered under warranty.

      • good luck getting a car company to do anything , even in court.

        they are a protected species my friend

        otherwise we wouldnt see people burning their JEEPs

    • Yeah, this is a big problem.

      I personally expect an iphone’s battery to last longer than 2 years, given that it costs over a thousand fucking dollars. Apple might dispute that.

      • For a company with a 2-3 product line I’d personally expect them to optimise next years update for last years model, but that doesn’t happen either due to planned obsolescence.

  • Funny thing is, when I bought my HTC One M7 on release from Harvey Norman, I got their care pack thing for extra $90-something (which bumped the price of the phone to retail). Half a year later, got the ‘purple camera’ issue. Sent it off according to instructions from the care pack thing. Harvey Norman gave me the option to fix or get a in-store credit for the purchase amount. I decided to buy a new Sony Z3 with that credit, although I was without a phone for a month (when I bought a shiny new Nokia 735, R.I.P. Nokia). I didn’t get the same care pack with this new phone… which I dropped and shattered three days later. Wish I did.

    So HN isn’t all that bad… although I had a very less than smooth sailing experience buying a TV off them in-store though. I’ve learnt my lesson and will buy online, even though I was feeling generous then to the floor worker(s) and not pocketing the $100 saving by buying online (including delivery). I have since purchased things from HN online (to take advantage of their long-arse interest free GO Mastercard deals) and picked up on a Saturday without issues.

    • I saved like $800 on my TV buying it in store. I can’t negotiate with a computer. Online is never cheaper for AV/Hi-Fi, if it is, you’re doing it wrong.

      • Not when you buy with a card. In store, that mentioned TV was already on sale so they didn’t budge on the price. Like I said, lesson learnt, never going to be kind to store people if they won’t play.

        • I bought on interest free, and it was on sale already. Knocked down to below Harvey’s cost price. Right salesman, and right negotiation skills.

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