Top tips to navigate the shopping season.
Our advice to help you through the pre-Christmas rush.
Tempted by a “sale” price that looks too good to miss? Check you’re getting a genuine bargain before handing over your cash. Do a quick online comparison of prices on other retailers’ websites to see whether it’s the best price on offer. Sales are so common at some retailers that discounts aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.
Not sure your gift will get a glowing reception? To avoid it gathering dust in someone’s wardrobe or being “re-gifted”, ask the store for an exchange card so your recipient can swap the unloved item for something else. Not all stores offer cards but they may still be willing to do an exchange to keep your custom.
Gift cards are the go-to option if you’re short on time or ideas. But before you buy, check whether the card has an expiry date. Cards with short expiry dates mean they could become worthless before they can be redeemed. You could always consider giving cash instead – it doesn’t come with any expiry date.
Offered an extended warranty with your purchase? Our advice: leave it at the store. You’ll probably be paying for protection you already have under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA). The act requires goods to be of acceptable quality. The retailer needs to put things right when a product doesn’t measure up.
Doing your holiday shopping online? The first rule is to check who you’re dealing with. Don’t automatically assume a business with a “co.nz” domain name is a Kiwi company. Look for the trader’s contact details on the site and read-up on its returns policy (if it has one).
If things turn to custard, it can be easier to sort if the company has an office here. Search the Companies Register – companiesoffice.govt.nz – to check if the trader is NZ-registered.
Tip: pay by credit or debit card when you’re shopping online. That way you can ask your bank for a chargeback if the trader doesn’t deliver.
Don’t assume the headline price is what you’ll end up paying when you’re shopping online. Retailers can add sneaky fees to your order that mean the bargain price isn’t much of a bargain. Before you hit “buy now”, check to see if you’ll be charged extras, such as delivery or service fees.
“Hurry, last items in this size.” “Limited stock.” “Ten other people are looking at this.” Treat these claims with the scepticism they deserve. They’re pressure tactics designed to tempt you to head to the checkout without delay. Don’t let them sway you into making a purchase you could end up regretting.
Fake reviews are a dime a dozen. If you’re searching for reviews of the product you’re eyeing up, watch for tell-tale signs they might be written by a paid reviewer. Repetitive language and stock phrases that could apply to almost anything are clues you may not be getting the full story.
Your best protection against the fakers is to go to independent sources of information (such as consumer.org.nz).
If the retailer is responsible for delivering your purchase, it needs to make sure the item gets to you by the agreed date or within a “reasonable” time frame if no date’s agreed. So if the item you’ve ordered takes an age to turn up (or worse, doesn’t), the retailer has to sort out the problem. They can’t tell you to deal with the courier.
Shopping budget running thin? Many retailers will be more than happy to offer you credit with an interest-free period. But think carefully before signing up – these offers may be interest free but they’re seldom fee-free. You’ll usually have to pay a fee to set up the deal and you can also be stung with default fees if you miss payments.
Missed payment fees can also apply if you sign up with services such as Afterpay and Laybuy. With these payment options, you get your goods immediately and pay off the price in instalments. But they’re not covered by credit or layby laws and you don’t have the same rights to cancel if you change your mind.
Check your bank statements and receipts to make sure you haven’t been overcharged. Mistakes happen. If you spot an error, get on to the retailer straight away and ask it to fix the problem. Keeping tabs on your bank account is also a good way to help keep your budget under control.
Scammers never take holidays. If you’re tempted by an offer from a trader you’ve never heard of, do an online search of the trader’s name alongside “scam” or “fraud” to see what turns up. Be aware, social media marketplaces can be a mecca for scammers so tread carefully.
The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) applies to all traders that advertise or sell to Kiwi consumers, even if the company is based abroad. The CGA covers all items bought from a trader for personal use. It doesn’t matter if you purchased the product yourself or if you received it as a gift.
The CGA requires that goods:
Retailers don’t have to take back goods if you simply get a case of buyer’s remorse. But if your purchase isn’t of acceptable quality, it’s a different story. Your first step is contacting the retailer and giving it a chance to fix the problem.
You’ve also got the right to ask the store to sort things out if you’re the recipient of a dud gift. The Consumer Guarantees Act applies to products you buy as well as to items you receive as presents.
You’ll need proof of purchase, such as the receipt or your bank statement, when you go back to the store.
When the fault with the item is minor, the retailer can choose to repair it, replace it or give you a refund. If the fault’s a major one, it’s up to you whether you want a refund or replacement.
Retailers can’t dodge their CGA obligations by putting up signs such as “no refunds” or “no returns on sale items”. They also can’t bury these types of claims in their terms and conditions. If the product’s faulty, the retailer has to put it right.
Traders also risk breaching the Fair Trading Act if they mislead you about your rights or their products.
If you get no joy from the retailer, and you paid by credit or debit card, you can ask your bank for a chargeback. Alternatively, you can file a claim with the Disputes Tribunal (for disputes up to $30,000). It costs between $45 and $180 to file a claim.
If you’ve been misled by a retailer, make a complaint to the Commerce Commission. Let us know too.