Christmas is literally round the corner and so are the much-expected January Sales. In a few days’ time we will start seeing several retail outlets putting up signs advertising discounted prices. Reduced prices encourage us consumers to shop as we find it difficult to resist a good bargain. In fact, the days following Christmas are often characterised by intensive shopping.
As we hit the streets to buy the products we desire at a reduced price, we should not forget that our rights and responsibilities always apply. Reduced prices do not exempt sellers from their legal obligations. A common misconception among consumers is thinking that reduced prices mean reduced rights. This is not the case at all.
If goods purchased during the sales period turn out to be faulty, the seller is legally obliged to provide consumers with a remedy that may include a refund if the product purchased cannot be repaired or replaced. These legal rights apply over and above any return policies that sellers may decide to apply. Thus, when sellers put up signs displaying ‘no returns’ or ‘no refunds’, these policies cannot be applied if the goods are defective.
With regard to our consumer responsibilities, we should remember that the law does not protect us in change of mind or wrong buying decisions. Possible solutions to such situations depend on shops’ return policies. In fact, many retailers offer exchanges or refunds as long as we present the fiscal receipt and return the item in a saleable condition, with all the original labels, tags and packaging. These return policies may change during sales. It is therefore worth double-checking the shop’s return policy before buying anything.
Reduced prices do not mean reduced rights
We may find ourselves in a situation where a gift received or a product purchased before the sales period is faulty. If, when we return the product, we find it reduced in price, we should not forget that if the defective product can neither be repaired nor replaced, then we are entitled to a money refund. In this case, the amount refunded must be the price paid for the good, not the discounted price. In these situations it is useful if we present the receipt as proof of the amount that was paid for the defective good.
During sales we should also be aware that retailers are obliged to indicate the final selling price and cannot just indicate the sales percentage. We consumers have the right to know how much a product costs and should not be given this information only at the cash point. Missing price indication may be reported to the Office for Consumer Affairs.
It is considered misleading and illegal for shops to display signs advertising a specific percentage of sale which the consumer finds is not the case upon entering the shop. An advert is legally considered misleading if it either contains false information or is likely to deceive the average consumer.
For example, a shop cannot advertise 70 per cent off all items, but then offer a lower discount on sale items. It is also illegal for sellers to alter previous prices to make the discounts appear much higher than they really are. If a shop is making a comparison with a previous price, the latter must be the price at which the goods were being sold before the sale.
As consumers we should be aware of these rights and responsibilities and, if we encounter any problems, we may contact the Office for Consumer Affairs within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority for information and assistance.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
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