Sometimes we find ourselves in situations in which we need to return to the seller the goods we purchased. In such situations we may not know what remedies we may be entitled to. Should we accept the offered credit note? Are we entitled to claim a full cash refund? The answer to these questions depends on the reason why we decided to return the goods to the seller.
One possible reason is because the goods bought turn out to be faulty or have not been delivered to us as agreed in the sales contract. In such situations we have specific legal rights that sellers are obliged to adhere to.
When goods are faulty, the law provides that the trader should, in the first instance, repair or replace the defective product. If consumers are offered a replacement, the product offered as a replacement should be the same as the original item bought by the consumer.
When a replacement is not possible then consumers may opt to cancel the sale and request a refund. In these situations sellers should not offer a credit note to consumers as this might give consumers the wrong impression that they are not entitled to asking for a refund. On the other hand, we should be aware of our legal rights so that if we are offered less than what we are entitled to we will know that we can reject the seller’s credit note and insist on a refund.
Credit notes should not be offered when we are legally entitled to a money refund
Shop’s notices stating that no cash refunds will be given must be ignored in such situations. Company policies can neither diminish nor take away consumers’ legal rights.
Accepting a credit note would mean getting less, as credit notes are not the equivalent of cash. Credit notes can only be redeemed at a specific outlet or a chain of shops. Moreover, credit notes usually carry specific terms and conditions which must be observed by consumers, such as using the credit note within a particular period of time.
Another reason why we may need to return purchased goods is because we have either realised that we have made the wrong buying decision or because we have simply changed our mind about the goods bought.
When we purchase goods the transaction is legally binding. This means that we cannot return unwanted goods and expect a solution from the seller. This also means that sellers are under no legal obligation to provide us with a remedy. Fortunately, most retailers are willing to exchange or offer credit notes even when there is nothing wrong with the goods returned. Hence, if in such cases we are offered a credit note, we should accept it. If we are not offered a credit note we have no legal right to insist on one nor can we lodge a complaint against the seller.
When given a credit note it is very important that we carefully read its terms and conditions to see what restrictions apply. It is best for both consumers and traders if these conditions of use are clearly written on the credit note itself so as to avoid any misunderstandings and unnecessary disputes. Care should also be taken not to lose the credit note because if we do, the law does not protect us and we might end up with nothing.
To protect our purchases in the best possible way, before concluding the sale, we should ask sellers if they have a return policy. We should also gather information on the terms and conditions we need to observe to benefit from this policy, such as the time limit by when unwanted goods should be returned, whether the original receipt is required and in what condition the goods should be returned. Once we make an agreement with a shop about returns or exchanges, this becomes part of our sales contract and the trader is obliged to observe it.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
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