Last week I was scrolling a well-known social media site and came across a post detailing a pretty crappy experience someone had with an online retailer. It got me thinking about our consumer rights in Australia when we buy something from an online retailer (such as eBay, Kogan, Catch and Amazon) and it turns out to be faulty, or even stolen.
The post described buying a product a few years ago from a seller via an online marketplace. The consumer recently went to trade in that product with the manufacturer and the manufacturer said the device was actually on the stolen goods database.
So, without throwing anyone under the bus here, I wanted to find out what your rights were as a consumer in this situation. The ACCC was super helpful, but there are, of course, so many specific cases like this that fall outside general advice.
What are your consumer rights?
Under the Australian Consumer Law, when you buy products and services they come with automatic guarantees that they will work and do what you asked for. If you buy something that isn’t right, you have consumer rights.
If a product or service you buy fails to meet a consumer guarantee, you have the right to ask for a repair, replacement or refund under the Australian Consumer Law. The remedy you’re entitled to will depend on whether the issue is major or minor. You can ask a business for your preference of a free repair, replacement or refund, but, as the ACCC notes, you are not always entitled to one.
As helpful as the ACCC is with consumer rights, it doesn’t cover this specific example.
I also reached out to the online marketplace, and they were relatively helpful (was a little hard for them to talk specifically, considering I had to be vague with the questions). They pointed me to their customer charter that states:
[Customer guarantees] mean that you are entitled to a replacement or refund for a major failure and compensation for any reasonably foreseeable loss or damage. You are also entitled to have the goods repaired or replaced if the goods fail to be of acceptable quality and the failure does not amount to a major failure.
It’s unclear if ‘stolen goods’ classify as ‘not being of acceptable quality’. But the goods are four years old now. The minimum voluntary warranty policy is no longer in place.
Their generic advice was to reach out to customer service. The consumer did reach out to customer service, but they were unhappy with their reply. Just to clarify, it doesn’t seem like the online retailer, in this case, is being dodgy, we’ve just hit a really grey area due to a really specific example, and the goods being quite old.
Advice from everywhere official seems to be to reach out to your specific state/territory consumer fair trading office if you’re unhappy with the reply from the online marketplace’s channels.
The ACCC is currently undertaking a review into online marketplaces that operate in Australia, with one part of the watchdog’s probe focusing on consumer rights. The ACCC considers it not-so-easy for consumers to make a complaint or get a solution when something goes wrong. Looking into the above, oh-boy is this an understatement.
The watchdog has previously put forward some consumer protection ideas, including the introduction of an economy-wide prohibition on unfair trading practices (it said this would fill gaps in the Australian Consumer Law). So hopefully the issue this example consumer had, and many, many others, can be easily resolved in the future.
So what do you do?
In the first instance, reach out to the online marketplace you purchased the goods from. If you’re unhappy with their solution, try seeking information from the ACCC to use in the marketplace dispute process. If you’re still unhappy, try your state or territory consumer fair trading office.
This clearly shows the process is far from straightforward and requires a lot of effort on the consumer’s behalf. Our consumer protection laws have some pretty serious holes in them, but with any luck, the work the ACCC is doing in this space will close a number of them. For now, however, there’s a lot of fending for yourself.