The new year brings with it the popular January sales. During this period, most sellers, both online and in-store, start promoting new discounts and offers to entice shoppers to spend more money.

When consumers buy products at a discounted price, they feel they are getting more value for money, and this prospect encourages them to buy more during sales. This may, unfortunately, result in reckless spending and if no precautions are taken, may also lead to unnecessary problems and disappointments.

The best protection consumers have in this regard is knowing their legal rights and responsibilities.

Consumers must first of all be aware that just because goods are bought during a sale, this does not mean their rights are compromised. The basic legal protection for faulty products always applies. This means that if goods purchased during sales are defective, or not in conformity with the contract of sale, consumers are entitled to a free remedy from the seller.

In such circumstances, consumers are entitled to have the defective product repaired, if that is a viable option, or replac­ed. If both these two solutions are not possible, then consumers are entitled to a refund.

Hence, shop signs stating “no refunds” or “no exchanges” do not apply when consumers are entitled to these legal rights. To safeguard these rights, consumers need to ensure that they have evidence of everything they purchase, hence the importance of having a proof of purchase.

If during the sales season, consumers have to return a faulty product that had been purchased at full price, the seller may first try to repair or replace the faulty item. If these two remedies are not a viable solution, then consumers may opt for the third type of remedy, which is money refund.

In such a situation, the amount to be refunded should be the full price originally paid, not the discounted price. When making such a claim, it is important that consumers submit the proof of purchase to show the amount paid for the defective product.

If a shop advertises a 50 per cent discount, without indicating any exceptions, then consumers should expect that all items in the shop are discounted by half- Odette Vella

Sometimes certain goods offered for sale at a discounted price are described as “seconds” or “shop soiled”. If consumers are interested to purchase such products, they are responsible to carefully examine the goods and check what the defect or damage is. These defects, which are usually visible, cannot be complained about after the sale is concluded.

For instance, if a dress is marked down because it has a defective zip, the dress cannot be returned to the seller for the same defect. However, if after the purchase a different fault develops, the seller is liable to provide a remedy for the hidden defect.

During sales, certain sellers may decide to amend their return policies. Such policies are usually applied voluntarily for cases when consumers change their mind or make a wrong buying decision. Since these policies may change during sales, before concluding the purchase, it is consumers’ responsibility to double-check any changes with the seller. 

It is also advisable that retailers properly inform their customers about the changed policies so as to avoid unnecessary complaints that may tarnish the company’s good reputation.

While consumers are responsible to shop around and compare prices and offers to ensure that they make informed purchase choices, consumer law obliges sellers to always indicate the final selling price. Furthermore, when comparing the discounted price with the previous price, the previous price should be the last price at which the goods were sold before the sales.

It is, in fact, considered illegal for shops to pretend that products have been reduced from a higher price when, in reality, the same goods were never offered for sale at the claimed price. Signs displaying sales percentages must also be truthful.

If a shop advertises a 50 per cent discount, without indicating any exceptions, then consumers should expect that all items in the shop are discounted by half. If not, then such signs are considered misleading adverts and are, therefore, illegal.

Consumers should always be extra careful not to be easily impressed by signs and adverts promoting ‘fantastic offers’ and ‘major price reductions’. While consumers should always read the fine print of every offer, whenever possible they should also verify that the claimed reductions are genuine. Knowing the prices before the sales season begins is a good start.

If consumers encounter misleading practices while shopping, such as false discount offers, or are denied any of their legal rights, they may seek the assistance of the Office for Consumer Affairs at the MCCAA.



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