A number of shops have already started putting up signs advertising reduced prices on their summer stock. Discounts and the prospect of saving money encourage consumers to buy more, sometimes even recklessly. Consumers need to remember that while their legal rights are not affected by any promotions or discounts that sellers offer from time to time, traders may decide to change their return policies during sales.
Most sellers adopt goodwill return policies that allow consumers to change their mind and return unwanted goods. These policies usually give consumers a number of days during which they can return bought products and exchange them for something else. Some shops allow consumers to opt for a credit note or even a cash refund.
However, during sales, these consumer-friendly policies may either be diminished or entirely suspended by sellers. In fact, some retailers put up signs that state “No Refunds” or “No Exchanges” during sales. While these policies may be applied when consumers change their mind about purchases, both consumers and sellers should be aware that if products turn out to be defective, consumers always have a legal right to a free remedy.
Sale or no sale, purchased goods must be as described and fit for their intended purpose. If goods do not meet this criteria, then consumers are legally entitled to a repair or replacement, or if these remedies are not possible, to a part or full refund.
While the legal right to a remedy remains valid for two years from the date the goods purchased come into consumers’ possession, it is still consumers’ responsibility to check the goods bought and report any damages immediately. When consumers inform sellers about defective goods, it is important that they clearly explain the problem and submit proof of purchase. This can either be the original fiscal receipt or a copy of the debit or credit card statement.
Consumers may also find themselves in situations where an item bought at full price develops a fault, and when this is returned to the seller, consumers find out that the product’s price has been reduced. If this happens and the seller is unable to repair or replace the faulty product, consumers are entitled to claim a refund of the full price paid for the product. Consumers are, however, responsible to present proof of the amount originally paid for the faulty product.
If the goods that consumers want to return during sales are not faulty, then consumers do not have any legal rights. This means that in such cases, whether the consumer may exchange or not the unwanted product, or whether the consumer is given the original or sale value of the product, all depends on the shops’ return policies.
Sometimes, goods sold at a reduced price are described as “seconds” or “shop soiled”. When this is the case, care should be taken to check what the defects or damages are. After doing so, consumers will be in a better position to decide whether it is worthwhile to proceed with the purchase.
Consumers should remember that faults brought to their attention before the sale is concluded cannot be complained about afterwards. However, if a different fault develops the seller is liable to provide a remedy for the hidden defect.
Even during sales, consumers are advised to shop around and compare prices of similar products across different stores. By doing so, consumers will have a much better chance of spotting a good bargain.
When shopping during sales, consumers should also be aware that sellers are legally obliged to clearly display the final selling price of discounted products. Furthermore, sales must be genuine. It is considered illegal for shops to pretend that goods have been reduced from a higher price when in reality the same goods were never offered for sale at the claimed price. When a shop makes a comparison with previous prices, the previous price should be the last price at which the goods were sold before the sales.
Signs displaying sales percentages must be truthful. So if a shop advertises a 50 per cent discount without indicating any exceptions, then all items in the shop must be discounted by the advertised percentage. If not, then such signs are considered misleading adverts and are therefore illegal.
Consumers may report misleading practices to the Office for Consumer Affairs at the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA). Misleading adverts and promotions may be reported through the ‘flag a concern’ form, which may be accessed through the MCCAA’s website at the following link below, as well as through the authority’s mobile app ‘Konsumatur’.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
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