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23 April 2024

Common consumer myths busted

The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) is turning 30 and Consumer NZ is on a mission to bust some of the most common misunderstandings about the Act.

“Whether it’s making sure the products you buy last, or getting what you’ve paid for from a service provider, the CGA is about protecting you,” says Gemma Rasmussen, head of advocacy and research at Consumer.

Consumer is New Zealand’s only independent tester and advocacy organisation. The not-for-profit has shared the most common misunderstandings that its customer support team and advisors have seen over the last few decades, in an effort to dispel the myths that surround consumer rights.

“We want to see more New Zealanders standing up for their rights, and getting what they pay for. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality though and our advice line is regularly inundated with complaints," says Rasmussen.

“Knowing what you are, and are not, covered for is a great way to make sure you’re always on the fair end of every deal.”

Consumer nz website promo image common consumer myths busted

Myth #1: If the product I bought is out of warranty, I’m out of luck

The CGA gives you the right to seek a remedy, such as repair or replacement for a faulty product, whether the product is covered by a manufacturer’s warranty or not.

“If you’ve bought a new washing machine that comes with a 2-year warranty, and 1 week after the warranty expired, the gearbox seizes up, you should still have redress under the CGA. The reason being that a new washing machine shouldn’t have a major breakdown after just 2 years.”

"We have put together a list that explains how long your appliances should last. It’s a great guide to refer to if your product is out of warranty and the retailer is refusing to budge.”

Myth #2: I need a receipt to return a product

“It’s fair to expect a retailer will need proof of purchase before helping you out,” says Rasmussen.

But a physical receipt isn’t the only way to prove you purchased something from a particular store.

“These days, many stores opt to send digital receipts. You may have an account with that store showing your purchase history. And then there's always your bank statement, which can help the retailer find the transaction at their end.”

Myth #3: The store can choose whether to repair, replace or refund

“Not always.” says Rasmussen.

"Let’s say a product has a major fault – one where you wouldn’t have bought the product if you’d known about the problem – it's your choice whether you ask for a repair, replacement or refund.

“But if a product has a minor fault, it’s up to the retailer to decide whether to replace the item, refund your money or repair the item for you.”

Myth #4: I can get a refund if I change my mind

You don't have the right to return goods simply because you've changed your mind or your circumstances have changed.

For example, say you bought a smartphone, but:

  • your partner bought you one as a surprise on the same day – can you take one of them back?
  • it’s green and you really wanted a pink one – can you swap?
  • the same phone is $100 cheaper in the shop next door – can you get a refund?

The answer to all these questions is no. The retailer is under no legal obligation to give you your money back or exchange the product. However, some retailers will do so in the interests of good customer service, so it's worth asking.

Myth #5: I must have the original packaging to return an item

“Sellers can’t ‘contract out’ of their obligations under the CGA by saying something like ‘we reserve the right to decline a refund if the item is not returned in its original packaging.’

“If the battery on your new stick vac has died after only a year of regular use, you’re not ‘outta luck’ just because you didn’t hold onto the original box.”

Myth #6: I have rights under the CGA, no matter who I’ve purchased something from

Rasmussen warns the protections provided under the CGA do not generally extend to private sales.

“Most of the protections in the Act only apply if you buy goods or services from sellers that are ‘in trade.’ That TV you just bought from a garage sale, or the car you’re eyeing up on Facebook marketplace listed by Joe Bloggs is considered a private sale, so you won’t usually be protected by the CGA.

“You may still have some limited rights against a product’s manufacturer under the act, though. There are also some limited protections against misrepresentations in the Contract and Commercial Law Act, which could help you take a case to the Disputes Tribunal.

“Always take care when buying second-hand goods at op shops, garage sales or online auctions – it pays to know your rights before something goes wrong.”

Consumer has a handy guide to buying second-hand goods on its website.

Myth #7: If the retailer refuses to help, there’s nothing I can do

If you just can't reach a resolution, consider taking a case to the Disputes Tribunal, which deals with disputes up to $30,000.

“It will cost you between $45 and $180 to lodge a claim, depending on the size of your claim, and you can claim against a trader or individuals.”

“We’ve heard plenty of stories about businesses coming to the party once a claim is lodged with the Disputes Tribunal. Just the act of lodging a claim could get you the result you want.”

Myth #8: I need to buy an extended warranty if I want cover beyond the manufacturer’s warranty

From its undercover work on extended warranties, Consumer knows many shops, including nationwide retail chains, are misleading customers about the extended warranties they offer.

“If you’re buying a home appliance and the retailer offers you an extended warranty, our advice is don’t waste your money.

“You’d probably be paying for protection you already have under consumer law, your home and contents insurance, or the manufacturer’s warranty.

“In some cases, the extended warranty offers less cover than you have under the law. Don’t buy it.”

Myth #9: Any additional costs (that resulted from the problem) are on me

In addition to your rights under the CGA, Rasmussen says you may be able to claim for any reasonably foreseeable losses that result from the initial problem.

“If your new washing machine won’t work properly, you can claim for laundry costs or the cost of hiring a replacement machine while the first one is being fixed.

“If you have to send goods back to be repaired, you don’t have to pay for those costs.

“But there is one caveat - the compensation for consequential loss must put you back in the position you would have been in if the goods or service hadn’t been faulty.”

Myth #10: I’m not covered because it was a gift

If you’re gifted something, you have the same rights as if you bought it yourself.

“If you received a dress for your birthday but the stitching comes apart after a couple of wears – go back to the retailer and ask them to put it right.”

Myth #11: The customer is always right

“This old adage is just that – old,” says Rasmussen.

“Thinking that you’re in the right just because you’re a paying customer isn’t the best attitude to have.”

“There’s a difference between being right and having rights. Get to know your consumer rights, and you’ll find just how empowering it is to stand up for yourself when you need to.”

Consumer advice line.

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