What the retailers would prefer you didn’t know

If Santa’s new massage chair has already stopped working, you need to know this.


As households wake up to the news that their December shopping spree took the country’s credit card debt beyond $30 billion for the first time, some will be battling with gifts that failed to achieve a pass mark and need to be returned.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has issued a timely reminder about consumer rights in relation to items that require repairs, a replacement or a refund.

The watchdog says complaints about faulty products and services are increasing.

In 2018, it received nearly 34,000 inquiries about consumer guarantee related issues – an increase of more than 17 per cent compared with 2017. The most common related to issues with faulty cars, electronics, whitegoods and clothing.

ACCC acting chair Roger Featherston says: “This is one of the busiest shopping periods of the year, so it’s important people remember they have rights if they’ve received a Christmas present or purchased an item during the Boxing Day sales that later fails.

“These consumer guarantee rights mean you’re entitled to a remedy, either a repair, replacement or refund. If the problem is minor, the retailer who sold the item can choose the remedy. If the problem is major, you get to choose your remedy.”

The ACCC explains that a minor failure is where a problem with a product can be fixed in a reasonable time.

A major problem is where the fault is more serious. For example, if the product doesn’t work any more and can’t be fixed, if it’s significantly different from its description, if it doesn’t do what you asked for or if it’s unsafe.

“Consumer guarantees are set in stone in the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), meaning businesses cannot alter or change them in any way,” Mr Featherston says.

“A key trick we always tell people is to use the words ‘Australian Consumer Law’ when returning a faulty product, so the retailer knows you’re aware of your rights.”

The watchdog warns that people should be wary about potentially misleading claims when returning faulty items. For example, a business may claim it can’t help as the product is out of warranty, that you have to take it to the manufacturer or that because it was a sale item you can’t return it.

These statements are all not true, says the ACCC, because:

  • A manufacturer’s warranty is separate to your ACL rights so even if a product is out of warranty, you still may be entitled to a remedy.
  • The retailer who sells you the product must help with a remedy if it turns out to be faulty. It cannot claim that it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to help you.
  • Sale items are covered by consumer guarantees. If the sale item later breaks, you have the same rights. It makes no difference if you pay a discounted price.

“A lot of people like to shop online, including at overseas-based retailers,” Mr Featherston says. “Another common complaint we receive is that a business won’t help a consumer with a faulty item as it is based overseas and isn’t subject to the Australian Consumer Law.

“This also isn’t true. Any overseas business that sells products to people in Australia is bound by our consumer law and must help you.”

Mr Featherston says that consumer guarantees did not apply if you had merely changed your mind.

“If you received a gift that you don’t like, or changed your mind about something you bought at the Boxing Day sales, consumer guarantee rights don’t apply, but some retailers may let you exchange gifts for another item,” he says.

People having difficulties obtaining a remedy for a faulty product can use the ACCC’s complaint letter tool to try to resolve the issue with the trader. If this is unsuccessful, they can contact their local consumer protection agency or report the issue to the ACCC.

Have you had to contact the ACCC after a problem with a product? Did the dispute end satisfactorily?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Old Geezer
    9th Jan 2019
    No such problems in our household.
    9th Jan 2019
    Household?...sounds like you are running a retail business OG!
    pedro the swift
    9th Jan 2019
    Thats all very well, then do people have so much trouble with faulty cars. Why can't someone return a faulty car and get a refund or replacement?
    9th Jan 2019
    There is a world of difference in returning a product bought for a gift when it is unsafe, doesn't work or is not what was advertised and the recipient just not liking it.

    Refunds are not mandated for change of mind purchases which is what this would be. Retailers are under no obligation to accept returns for unwanted presents and people should be aware of that whether they have proof of purchase or not.
    9th Jan 2019
    Is it just me, or is this site going downhill lately. Used to be a lot of interesting articles once.
    9th Jan 2019
    I agree and I don’t like the Friday poll either. They are emotive topics which bring out the worst in people
    9th Jan 2019
    Agree. It's the same news day in, day out - just rehashed with a new title. Come on YLC. You say you value our membership. Now prove it. Give us something new!
    10th Jan 2019
    Isn't it because the Government is closed so not much happening the political front?
    10th Jan 2019
    I was not aware until recently that ACL can cover appliances that have a major breakdown outside the warranty period. When I had a portable air con stop working just outside the warranty I thought I had no recourse, and everyone I knew thought as it was outside warranty that nothing would be done. I called the retailer on the chance that they might still honor the warranty, but instead it was replaced under ACL - I had no idea what they were talking about and was just glad I got it replaced. Now I know what they were taking about.
    10th Jan 2019
    Today I posted off my dehydrator that stopped heating back to the seller, but I had to pay for postage (they did give me a label to print out and was cheaper than what I would have paid at the post office but still it was $20 out of my pocket and I had to push for that too). I only had it for just over a year and it is under a 3 year warranty, so disappointing, I now have to wait 2 weeks for a repair. You would think that they would pay the $20 considering I paid over $200 for the item.

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