When you buy a product from a retailer, there are certain rules, requirements and obligations that are placed on the seller, particularly in business to consumer sales. Business to business operates slightly differently because consumers don’t have as much bargaining power when it comes to negotiating the terms of the contract. In these cases, statutory protection should apply when returning goods.
Right of Return
When you buy anything from a retailer, a contract is created, and it is from this moment that legal rights apply. These will vary depending on where the purchase takes place. As an example, if you buy something from a store on the high street, you don’t have any legal right to return your purchase because you have changed your mind.
Alternatively, if you buy the same product online you can return the product if you changed your mind because you haven’t actually seen it. The majority of legal rights exist when products are being sold that don’t meet the required standards or they are classed as being faulty. It is therefore crucial to be able to determine when a product is considered to be faulty before returning goods.
Right of Return for Gifts
Returns are made for many different reasons and products aren’t just returned because they are faulty. Sometimes a product is given as a gift but the recipient wishes to return it to the store. This is completely different from dealing with faulty products.
If you wish to return an unwanted gift you will need to check the returns policy in store. Although retailers are not legally obliged to have a returns policy but if one does exist, it must be followed because it becomes part of the contract between a buyer and seller when a purchase is made.
It is commonplace for retailers to offer an extended returns period allowing consumers to return unwanted gifts provided that they are returned to the store in the original packaging and they are in a good condition. For unwanted gifts a retailer will offer an exchange or credit note but it is completely at the discretion of the store as to what they offer.
When you would like to return products to the store, the legislation that applies is the Sales of Goods Act 1979. It is difficult to specifically identify what is meant by a faulty product because there isn’t a clear definition of faulty. What one person deems as faulty another may not. Consequently, there are several guidelines that exist which define what is expected from certain products when they are sold to consumers.
Products that are Fit for Purpose
The Sales of Goods Act 1979 defines a range of implied terms which are incorporated into contracts between buyers and sellers. These terms indicate what should happen when a product doesn’t meet the required standards.
In this instance the consumer can return the product because the contract has been breached. Whether a product is fit for purpose will very much depend on the actual product being sold. For example, fit for purpose for an item of clothing will be different for an appliance and it covers a wide variety of goods.
When you buy something, it should work as it is intended to or as described. If it doesn’t you may be able to claim that the product isn’t fit for purpose. It may however be quite difficult to prove this because it means different things to different people.
Quality and Description
Retailers must be very careful when they advertise products for sale in that they must be accurately described. Product descriptions can form part of a contract between a buyer and a seller so if something is inaccurately described consumers have a right in returning goods and cancel the contract.
In addition, consumers expect the products that they buy to meet certain quality standards in relation to the price they paid and whether the product is new or second hand. Failure to meet these standards may mean that the consumer has a right to return the product.
Problems when returning items
Returning goods to a store for a refund is not always straightforward.
In summary, issues that arise when products are returned include:
- When a product has been owned by the buyer for less than six months and it is not fit for purpose if the item has broken
- Contracts are usually between the retailer and the customer. When a return is made the retailer will need to return the product to the manufacturer
- If the product is faulty for any reason, the consumer is entitled to a full refund
- When a product is faulty it can be returned without the original receipt. Proof of purchase is required which can be a bank statement or credit card statement
- Any product that is purchased in a sale is still covered by the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and so is covered by the same legal rights
- If a product is sold (sometimes at a reduced price) and this is drawn to the customers attention before they purchase, any defects they find with the product if they agree to purchase knowing about the defect will not be adequate grounds for returning goods
- If a product has a defect and this was visible to the customer when they bought it, they are not entitled to return the item. As an example, if you bought a jacket with a broken zip and you knew about this before you purchased the item, you cannot then return it to the store for a refund because of the defective zip
Services are also approached in a similar manner, but when services are provided by a business they must be delivered with reasonable skill and care. A service must also be delivered within a reasonable amount of time and be fairly priced.
Consumer law is complex and if you are in any doubt over your rights it is recommended that you seek legal advice either from trading standards or your local citizens advice bureau.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team and posted by Lloyd Barrett. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.