Shop Assistant: Hi there. What can I do you for?
Dave: Hi. I bought this electric toothbrush from your shop last week but it doesn’t seem to be working. It never seems to have any power. I mean, I charge it all day and the little light thing says it’s fully charged, then I get five seconds out of it and it dies.
Shop Assistant: I see. Can I have a look at it?
Dave: Sure, go ahead. The receipt and all the original attachments are in the box.
Shop Assistant: (trying the brush) Hmm, I see what you’re saying. My guess is that there is something wrong with the battery. Rechargeable batteries can be a bit temperamental. Anyway, I can exchange the brush for another if you’d like.
Dave: Ah, that’s very kind of you, but I’d prefer a refund, truth be told. I think I’m done with electric toothbrushes.
Shop Assistant: Unfortunately the management has a no refunds policy. They do store credit, replacements, or exchanges to an equal value.
Dave: Is there any way you can make an exception just this once?
Shop Assistant: I’m sorry, I’m afraid not. My hands are tied.
Dave: You’re joking. Come on, work with me here. I come here all the time.
Shop Assistant: Let me ask my supervisor. Although I wouldn’t get my hopes up: he’s pretty tight when it comes to money.
Dave: I see. I’ll try my best puppy dog eyes and hope for the best.
Shop Assistant: Good luck.
Manager: Hello sir. I understand you bought an item with which you aren’t satisfied.
Dave: That’s an understatement: it doesn’t work! I’m looking for a refund, but your guy at the counter tells me you’ve a no refund policy in place.
Manager: Yes, that’s right. We’ve had some problems in the past with people taking advantage of our kindness, so I decided to clamp down on that.
Dave: I assure you I’m not looking to abuse your trust or anything like that. I just have a toothbrush that doesn’t work and I don’t want a new one.
Manager: I understand, but the shop’s policy is no refunds.
Dave: That’s all very well, and I don’t want to kick up a fuss, but it’s a lousy $5 toothbrush. I would have thought keeping a customer happy would be worth $5.
Manager: I see your point, but rules are rules.
Dave: Rules maybe rules, but come on, this is ridiculous. It’s just a stupid toothbrush.
Manager: I’m sorry you feel that way. We can give you a store credit and you can select something more to your liking.
Dave: You know what, screw this. My time is more valuable than this. I’ll just take my broken, useless toothbrush, and my business, elsewhere. Goodbye.
In December 2012, the Daily Telegraph published an article by columnist Kara Gammell in which she sought to debunk several myths regarding customer rights. Here is an abridged version of the piece:
Myth 1: ‘If I change my mind about a purchase, I am entitled to a refund.’
Reality: You have no right to a refund on anything you have already bought unless it does not match the Sales of Goods Act regarding the description, quality, or purpose of the product. In such cases you may ‘reject’ the product and get your money returned. However, many shops do have their own refund policies and rules.
Myth 2: ‘Shopping online gives me fewer rights.’
Reality: Online purchases in the UK have a 7-day ‘cooling-off period’ from the day the product arrives because this is the first time the customer has seen the actual physical object. Exceptions to this are perishable items, products made to the customer’s desired specifications, products that have had all their packaging removed or been tampered with, or financial services (the last of these actually has a 14 day period for refunds).
Myth 3: ‘EU law means products I buy have a 2-year warranty.’
Reality: Yes, and no. UK law’s Sales of Goods Act trumps EU law because it actually meets or exceeds the majority of the directives. This means customers have even better protection: in England and Wales products can be covered for up to 6 years if they can be expected to last for that time without breaking (and it is the retailer, not manufacturer, that is responsible). However, after a product is 6-months old, the customer must show that any failing is a manufacturing fault, not through inappropriate use.
Myth 4: ‘Paying by credit card gives me more rights.’
Reality: Yes, but only if the purchase is over £100 and less than £30 000. The Consumer Credit Act means that credit card companies and retailers are jointly liable on purchases, and if a retailer goes bust before the product arrives, customers can claim against the credit card company completely. It is also possible to only pay for a part of an item by card, but still get protection.
Myth 5: ‘The price tag was wrong, but the retailer must honour it.’
Reality: No. Retailers are within their rights to refuse a sale, and so if they notice a mis-pricing can simply decline the sale. However, if the sale has been accepted then things become more complicated. If the price was so low as to be clearly not genuine, a retailer can attempt to void the sale. On the other hand, a customer can buy the product elsewhere and then try to go through the small claims court for the original retailer to pay the difference.
Myth 6: ‘Consumer rights do not apply to second-hand or sale items.’
Reality: Unless the retailer has described any faults before the purchase, then consumer rights still apply. However, if buying from a private seller – somebody who does not make a living by selling products – then the only rights are that the product matches the description.
Myth 7: ‘I can get my money back if my products do not arrive on time.’
Reality: This is only true if the retailer has promised products to arrive before a particular time. In this case, late arrival counts as breach of contract. One cannot assume that it takes under a week for a product to be shipped and then claim for money back if it doesn’t arrive within two weeks (and therefore is, for example, late for Christmas).