Know your retail rights
THE week after Christmas is a time to test out your new gifts and snag a Boxing Day bargain.
But what happens if the shoe doesn't fit? Or your hoverboard has a tendency to catch fire? Or perhaps you've received a present you simply don't want?
Consumers aren't always aware of their rights when it comes to returning goods, and signs that display "no refunds" in the window certainly don't help.
It is actually unlawful for retailers to have signs that say "no refunds", "no refunds on sale items", or "exchange or credit note only for the return of sale items".
What, then, are the rights of consumers when it comes to returning goods?
Australia has a robust consumer protection system that helps consumers seeking a refund for damaged goods. Under the Australian Consumer Law, goods must also be of an acceptable quality (ie what's normally expected for the type of product and its cost).
If there's a major problem with the product, it's your choice - not the retailer's - as to whether you prefer a full refund, a replacement or a payment that represents the reduction in value of the item due to the damage or defect.
You are not required to return the product in its original packaging.
Under the Australian Consumer Law, a product has a major problem if:
a) It has a defect that would have prevented someone from purchasing the product;
b) It's dangerous;
c) It doesn't match the product description; or
d) It lacks the functionality it should have.
Consumers are entitled to their choice of a repair, replacement or refund if the product is broken, or doesn't work as promised - even if it was on sale.
If there's a minor issue with a product that can be fixed within a reasonable time (such as a missing power adapter or cable), the retailer can choose whether to repair, replace or refund the item. It is good practice for consumers to keep the receipt or any other proof of purchase (eg a credit card statement) if they intend to return an item.
If, however, there is a problem with the product that you already knew about or were made aware of before purchase, it's unlikely that you'd be entitled to a refund.
LegalVision lawyer Thomas Kaldor said it was relatively common for retailers to offer discounts on damaged floor stock.
"But if you're made aware of the defect before purchasing the product, it's unlikely that you'll be saved by the Australian Consumer Law if you change your mind about the purchase. However, it's worth checking whether the retailer's returns policy applies anyway," he said.
Just because sellers aren't legally required to offer change-of-mind returns, doesn't mean they can't.
Outside of the statutory requirements, retailers are free to create their own returns policies.
Remember, a retailer's consumer law obligations also extend to goods and services consumers buy online from a business based in Australia.
"Australian consumer protection laws apply to all businesses selling goods to Australian consumers - which may include overseas retailers selling online," Mr Kaldor said.
However, in practice, it may be difficult to enforce your rights against a retailer based outside Australia.
"Before purchasing products online, it's a good idea to take precautions by reading reviews from other consumers and checking the returns policy," said Mr Kaldor.
A number of major retailers offer change-of-mind returns within a specific time period, provided the item is still in a saleable condition and you are able to offer proof of purchase.
WHAT THE SHOPS OFFER:
MYER An exchange or refund if it is in saleable condition, is unworn or unused - with all original sealed packaging and tags attached, and is sought within a reasonable period of time (typically 30 days). This policy does not apply to certain goods, including large electrical, custom-made or personalised goods, and perishables
DAVID JONES A refund or exchange is given if the item is in a resaleable condition (ie original tags and labels are still attached, item is in its original packaging and the item is unworn, unused and as sold) and does not fall within any of the special exceptions (including gift cards, personal care items and earrings)
HARVEY NORMAN Refunds are not normally provided where you have simply changed your mind, made a wrong selection or simply found the goods cheaper elsewhere.
JB HI-FI For electrical products and accessories, any unused and unopened products in good condition can be returned for a 100% refund due to a change of mind within 30 days. For CDs, DVDs, games and computer software, any products with unused and unopened packaging in good condition can be returned for a 100% refund due to change of mind within 90 days.
KMART For change of mind returns, Kmart offers an exchange voucher or refund provided that the item is returned within 28 days of purchase, the item is in resaleable condition (in its original packaging, is unworn, unopened unused and in its original condition), any sewn-in labels are still attached, and for games, CDs and DVDs, that the original security seal or shrink wrap is intact. Certain products do not fall within the change of mind policy, including cosmetics and fragrances, hosiery, underwear and swimwear.
BIG W Big W offers a refund or exchange for most purchases (some exclusions apply) within 30 days of purchase (non-electrical items) or 10 days or purchase (electrical items), provided that the product is in its original condition and is unused, unworn and in resaleable condition.
TARGET You have 28 days to return your items (some exclusions apply) for a full refund or exchange as long as it is returned in saleable condition
APPLE Items purchased at the Apple Store between 10 November 2016 and 25 December 2016 may be returned through to 8 January 2017. Outside of those dates, items can be returned to an Apple retail store within 14 calendar days of receiving your order.
TOYS R US Toys R Us accepts change-of-mind returns so long as the item is returned in a saleable condition with the original packaging and all pieces intact. A restocking fee may be charged for large items.