Be very aware of your Australian Consumer Law rights this Xmas

We all want a bargain. What better place to find one than cruise the various pop-up shops and aisle kiosks at your favourite shopping centre or markets. Many of these openly flaunt Australian Consumer Law rights with regards to warranties, returns and refunds. Let’s not even mention dodgy online stores yet.

I set about gently asking many of these ‘here-today, gone after Xmas’ shops a few probing questions. What the warranty was, how could I contact them after they have left the building and had they even heard of Australian Consumer Law rights?

Let’s just say that almost without exception these fly-by-night stores don’t have an Australian ABN number and won’t provide any contact details. Good luck with returns or warranties.

Australian Consumer Law rights

First, let’s look at the basic premise of Australian Consumer Law rights. It offers strong consumer protections for

  • unfair contract terms, covering standard form consumer contracts
  • consumer rights when buying goods and services
  • product safety
  • unsolicited consumer agreements covering door-to-door sales and telephone sales
  • lay-by agreements

We are specifically looking at the guarantees (link here – care it is a PDF so check downloads).

Vendors (who you bought the goods from) must automatically provide consumer guarantees regardless of any supplier or manufacturer warranty. They cannot dodge their responsibilities.

Those guarantees include

  • goods are of acceptable quality
  • goods match any description provided
  • any express warranties will be honoured
  • And you right to choose refund, repair or replacement

If no time limit is specified, then a ‘reasonable’ time applies based on excepted product life.

There are no ‘ifs and buts’. If a supplier fails to meet a guarantee the consumer is entitled to recover damages. In some circumstances, consequential loss as well.

And note that the vendor must pay the freight of the faulty good back to it and back to you. Don’t fall for the freight cost trap. And don’t fall for ‘There is nothing wrong’ trap either. Dodgy merchants will hold the goods saying you have to pay more to get them back

Australian Consumer Law rights apply to pop-ups and aisle kiosks shops as well

Signs and statements that appear to limit consumers’ rights are unlawful. This includes

  • ‘no refund’
  • ‘no refund on sales items’
  • ‘Exchange or credit note only for the return of sale items’ signs.
These signs are illegal and can lead to big fines!

Vendors cannot:

  • modify, restrict, or exclude consumer guarantees
  • avoid their obligations by getting the consumer to agree that the law of another country applies (online stores)
  • Require consumers to sign away their consumer guarantee rights. This is misleading about the consumers legal right to compensation for consequential loss.

What to do if you are ripped off or refused warranty service (consumer purchases <$40,000)

First, approach the vendor (if you can find them). Preferably have a written complaint outlining your

  • contact details
  • the goods purchased
  • date
  • a copy of the receipt

Satisfaction is entirely in your domain. You can insist on a full refund, repair, or replacement. Vendors cannot insist on issuing credits, discounting the goods by the length of use, or any other excuse.

Second, if that does not work, go online to the Department of Fair Trading in your State and complain. You need the

  • vendor’s name
  • address, phone
  • website
  • email
  • and preferably the ABN but don’t let lack of all information stop you.

Upon receipt, Fair Trading will contact each party and aim to finalise most complaints within 30 days. If it is unable to reach an agreed outcome, it will provide options to pursue the matter further.

But what about dodgy online resellers.

It is really hard to track these down as they often use fake ABNs and addresses. A start is your state department of Fair Trading.

You may contact the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) if you think the issue is of national importance.

And we suggest payment via a major bank-issued credit card or Pay Pal for its Buyer Protection. It is a slow process to get money back, but a well-documented case helps.

Be aware that Amazon and eBay are not usually the vendors. The individual merchants are, and you will need to complain to them.

Kogan also operates a merchant market, but it has a poor reputation. It is a recidivist on the NSW Department of Fair Trading naughty list.

GadgetGuy’s take

Yes, I have had a bad experience. A promised three-month warranty was not worth the salesperson’s word or the cash register docket. And yes, it was only a $50 item that I probably saved $10 by not buying from a reputable retailer.

But damn it, we are in Australia – not the back street markets where it is ‘Caveat Emptor’.

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