How To Claim A Repair, Replacement Or Refund At Retail Stores

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With Christmas time comes a lot of gifting and with gifting comes some inevitable disappointments. Whether you were on the receiving end of a dud gift that just doesn't work or you gave something away that turned out to be faulty or didn't work as expected - it's important to know your rights when it comes to returning, repairing or refunding a product or service.

Here are a few tips to ensure you don't get stooged at the register when returning a product that didn't quite live up to expectations.

The most important thing is to arm yourself with the knowledge before you go in to a store or ask for a refund online. Anger and frustration rarely gets you anywhere. Having a good handle on Australian Consumer Law will take you a long way. It will be much easier to quickly navigate the high seas of retail returns and refund policies if you're across your rights as a consumer.

Your Rights To Repairs, Returns And Refunds In Australia

Australian Consumer Law protects consumers when they purchase a product or service by ensuring that a standard consumer guarantee is upheld. These guarantees are automatic and exist on all products under $40,000 in value (and certain products above that price, too). This consumer guarantee is what allows you to ask for a repair, replacement or a refund and they exist outside any voluntary warranties that the business may give you.

In Australia, these consumer guarantees state that:

A product must be of acceptable quality, that is:

  • safe, lasting, with no faults
  • look acceptable
  • do all the things someone would normally expect them to do

While the scope is very broad, it basically boils down to "does the product I bought do what it should do?" ie. does a toaster adequately toast bread, does a vacuum adequately clean the floor, does a pair of headphones last for more than six days and work in both ear holes?

There are several other qualifiers too. If you asked a salesperson for a product and was told it would do something that it doesn't do - then you are covered by the consumer guarantee. Same if the product you're sold doesn't match the description or sample you were given.

A timely reminder: businesses cannot post signs stating that they do not offer refunds. If you've bought something over the Christmas period and it is faulty or doesn't work as you expected - you can take it back and you are entitled to a repair, replacement or your money back.

Can I Get A Refund If I Change My Mind?

Broadly speaking, no. Under Australian Consumer Law, retailers do not have to provide a refund for change of mind.

A 'change of mind' is one exception to the consumer guarantees under Australian Consumer Law but there are also exceptions to that exception. For instance, if you were given a pair of headphones for Christmas and noticed, before opening the box, that you didn't like the colour or brand, it's very likely that you will be able to return them or swap them over without any issue. Retailers are generally happy to do that.

However, if you've begun to use them and then try to bring them back a few weeks later, then you will probably be met with a blank stare.

You also won't be entitled to a repair or refund if you have misused the product. I use the headphones example because it's a good one. Everyday use of headphones means they go in your ear and get bundled up in your pockets. You should expect that they will be able to withstand that kind of use - but if it looks like you've been roughing them up, getting them wet or bring them back with wiring all over the place then you're less likely to be refunded.

Similarly, refunds will not be granted if you just happened to see it cheaper elsewhere further down the track. It's bloody annoying, but under the ACL, you are not protected by the consumer guarantee. One caveat: Asking nicely can take you a long way and I have definitely seen retailers refund them item and then sell it back at the cheaper price.

How To Claim A Repair, Return And Refund In Australia

To remedy a situation, you will first have to head back to the retailer you purchased the product or service from. You will need to ensure you have a few things first:

Proof of purchase: This can be the original receipt, a copy, a transaction record from your credit card that itemises each product, a receipt or confirmation of purchase number or even the serial, if the retailer keeps those on record.

Identify the fault: There are two kinds of problems with a product -- Minor and Major.

For minor problems, the retailer can choose to repair the product for free but they must be able to do so in a 'reasonable' time frame. If they cannot repair the problem, you can get it done elsewhere or move on to getting a refund or a replacement.

If the problem is a major one - ie. headphones that don't produce sound, won't pair via bluetooth etc. - then you can get a refund or a replacement. However, in the headphones scenario, a major problem that occurs several years after the fact likely won't be covered. It's worth investigating, as the price of the product generally dictates how long you have before a retailer no longer believes you are covered by the consumer guarantee - and even though they may not believe you're covered, the law might.

The product to return: You're returning the product, so bring the product to the store. That should go without saying, but I've seen people bring receipts in without products expecting the situation to be remedied. This is only okay if the product is far too big to get back to the store yourself - ie. a large TV or refrigerator. If you can't transport it back, the retailer will need to pick up the bill for returning it to the store.

Under the consumer law, you don't need to return the product in its original packaging. Worth remembering if you're fretting about losing the box.

Good attitude: After years of retail experience, the secret is approaching staff in a calm, friendly manner. If you've been inconvenienced by a faulty product, that sucks - I know - but the staff aren't the ones responsible for those faults (usually). Return to the store in a positive manner and the problem will be resolved in a much speedier fashion.

Do I Need An Extended Warranty?

Big retail stores like JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman offer extended warranties on products as a way to generate extra income and offer the customer another safety net should their product fail in the future. You will have to weigh up how much extra you want to spend and what kind of coverage you will get by tacking on an extended warranty.

Depending on where you shop, these extended warranties may enable you to replace the item further down the track if it fails and can give you extra peace of mind - but do you need them? I would say no. The consumer guarantee should protect you from any minor or major faults.

As an ex-retail employee, I can offer this word of advice though: A customer who has bought an extended warranty will be looked after a lot more readily than those who did not.

What Protections Do I Have If I Shop Online?

Online shopping is only getting bigger and with the arrival of Amazon Australia, will continue to grow. Online shoppers are entitled to the same protections as those who do their shopping in-store. That is, if the online business is selling to Australian consumers, then they must comply with the Australian Consumer Law and thus provide a repair, replacement or refund option if there are any faults with the purchased product.

However, you can still get burnt. You need to make yourself aware of the seller and try and buy from reputable sources. If something is shipped to you and there are no contact details to return it, then you could find yourself without your product and without any cash.


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