Is It Legal For Retailers To Refuse To Exchange Unwanted Products?

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Each Boxing Day, countless Australians take part in the annual tradition of returning unwanted gifts for an exchange or refund. Usually, the retailer accepts the proffered item with no questions asked. But what if they refuse? Are merchants legally obligated to provide a remedy under Australian consumer law or are they allowed to send you packing?

To be perfectly frank, the seller doesn't owe you a goddamn thing. If a product purchased from their store isn't defective, they are under zero obligation to give you an exchange or refund.

Australian consumer law is very clear on this fact: to be legally entitled to a refund, the goods in question must have been damaged prior to purchase, of unacceptably poor quality or fail to match the advertised description in some way.

These are the main rules to be aware of:

  • Goods must be of acceptable quality (taking account of their price and nature), and fit for the purpose they were designed for.
  • Goods must match any description made of them and any sample shown.
  • Spare parts and servicing must be available for products for a "reasonable time" after sale.
  • Services must be carried out with due care and skill, and achieve any result specified.

Clearly, unwanted gifts do not match any of the above criteria. The same goes for changing your mind, accidentally buying the wrong product or returning something "for spite".

So the next time you're queuing at customer service with an unwanted pressie tucked under your arm, remember to be polite and friendly. If they refuse to cooperate, yelling about your "consumer rights" is unlikely to help. Instead, sell it on eBay and take your future business to a retailer with a more liberal returns policy.

With that said, it's definitely worth fighting for your rights if you think you've been shafted in some way. This explainer from the ACCC breaks down the rules in greater detail along with tips on how to deal with related issues.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


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