What Are Your Customers’ Rights if They Want to Return an Item?

Created: Monday, January 20, 2020, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 10:00 am

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By Amanda Hamilton, CEO of NALP

Whether it’s the aftermath of Christmas shopping or generally throughout the year, it’s inevitable that some people will want to return the items they bought or were gifted. But what rights do they have?

Legally, without a receipt you aren’t obliged to give them a refund, but of course you may feel that doing so is worth it for the goodwill. In fact, without a receipt there’s not a lot a customer can do.

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But with a receipt it’s an entirely different story. Whether the gift was bought in-store or online, there are some pretty strong and clear consumer rights relating to returns: the 2015 Consumer Rights Act. This Act was updated to provide clearer shopping rights, especially when returning items bought online, including digital downloads.

Product Quality

Needless to say, products should live up to satisfactory quality, be fit-for-purpose and come just as it was described. And that includes digital content.

Fit for Purpose

If the item doesn’t do what it should do, then it’s not fit for purpose. If you sold a diving mask that lets in water, it’s not fit for purpose. If, before buying, you informed (perhaps in answer to a question) the buyer of a novel use for the item and assured them it would still work, but it doesn’t, that also counts as not-fit-for-purpose.

Satisfactory Quality

The word ‘satisfactory’ is a bit ambiguous here but, generally, products shouldn’t come faulty or damaged unless clearly stated (e.g. selling a broken item for parts). For everything else, it largely depends on the item. Luxury products tend to be held to a higher standard than bargain store items. A frayed stitch on a Gucci bag is a bigger deal than on a market-bought bag, for example.

As Described

If the product is different from the description provided or models or samples shown before purchase, then it’s not as described.

If the item the purchaser is returning doesn’t meet any of the criteria above, then they have a strong claim under the Consumer Rights Act. It’s also up to you, the seller, to fix the problem, and excuses about sending it back to the manufacturer won’t do.

Returns Within 30 Days

Within 30 days of taking ownership is when the buyer has the greatest level of consumer protection. If any product falls short of the three criteria above, it can be returned with a receipt within 30 days for a full refund. It’s worth bearing in mind that the 30 days starts from when the item was received by the purchaser (unless otherwise stated), not from when it was received as a (for example, Christmas) gift.

Over 30 Days ‒ Repair or Replace

Being outside the 30-day window, doesn’t mean the customer has no claim if the product is unsatisfactory, faulty, unfit for purpose or not-as-described gift. The buyer must allow you the opportunity to repair or replace the product. They can only claim a refund or discount if your attempt to repair the item is unsuccessful or you are unable to replace the faulty item.

Under Six Months

Faults sometimes take a few months to develop, as many of us will already know. As long as it’s within six months of the purchaser receiving the item, it’s assumed that the problem was always there and the seller is responsible for repairing or replacing the item. Of course, if the buyer wants to keep the product anyway, you can always offer a discount instead.

Over Six Months

While trickier to prove, a buyer can still make a return claim after six months. They’ll need to show that the item was faulty when it arrived, which may require an expert report or other evidence. One common example is where there is a known fault across the entire range.

The maximum time to claim is six years after receiving the product and this will likely require them going through the small claims court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Digital Content

As consumer goods increasingly come in digital formats, such as music, films or games – are they covered in the same way as physical goods? The answer is yes; the Consumer Rights Act 2015 also covers any goods sold as digital data. That means, it still needs to be satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. If not, they can be returned for refund, repair or replacement ‒ with the same time limits on returns as physical goods.

But what if the buyer simply doesn’t like the item? Say it’s in perfect working condition, came as described, and works for its intended purpose, but it’s just not what they, or the person they gifted it to, wanted ‒ can they still get a refund or exchange?

The answer is: it depends on the retailer. In other words, it’s up to you. And it may be worth offering a no quibble return policy for a set period as this often encourages people to buy and gives them a level of comfort.

For particularly difficult customers, it’s always worth mentioning that you know your (and their) rights under the 2015 Consumer Rights Act… that will sometimes do the trick. If they are being particularly stubborn and troublesome, then you may need legal advice. A qualified and licensed Paralegal is probably your best bet as they are cheaper yet do much of the same work as a solicitor. Just make sure your paralegal is registered with a professional membership body, such as the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP).

Amanda Hamilton
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its training arm, NALP Training, trading as National Paralegal College, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.

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