It’s time the regulators had a good look at how consumer laws are working and warn a few retailers about their obligations because some shopkeepers need a wake up call.

I’m tired of seeing signs in shops (some which have been around for decades) falsely telling customers they cannot get refunds or exchange sale items. In a well-known outlet store in Otaki this past week, when I told the shop assistant her till sign telling people they could not exchange or get refunds on goods was illegal she boldly told me they only did it in their outlet shops. When I tried to politely tell her that outlet shops were not exempt from consumer law, she smiled and palmed me off.

What I can’t understand is how these shopkeepers think they know enough to put up a sign like that which is clearly not right. It breaches my rights as a consumer and also the Fair Trading Act, as it is misleading.

A similar situation occurred last month when I was on Stewart Island. A notice on the sale items said there would be no refunds or exchanges on them. I again politely pointed out this was illegal. If the product was faulty, the consumer had the same rights regardless of whether it was on sale or not. The assistant assured me it was only on sale items or end of line – she really didn’t get the point.

It’s important at this time of year (and pre-Christmas) when people are buying stuff, sometimes in a hurry, that if they want to return them they can. That’s not to say retailers need to take back items that people don’t like, don’t fit, or want to exchange for something they like better. They don’t (unless an exchange card has been used).

But ignorance of the law appears to be rife (if it’s not ignorance it’s deliberate which is even worse). Unless something is clearly marked as a second, or has a defect, consumers have all the rights of repair, refund or replace when they buy items at discounted prices as if they had paid the full price. It’s not that hard. If you see a dodgy sign in a shop which you reckon breaches your rights. Let us know. Better still send us a photograph. We’ll post it and pass on the information to the regulators!

About the author:

Sue Chetwin has been our Chief Executive since April 2007 after more than 25 years in print journalism. She was formerly the Editor of Sunday News, Sunday Star Times and the Herald on Sunday. She says there are strong parallels between consumer advocacy and journalism.

Sue oversees all of Consumer’s operations and is also the public face of the organisation. Sue is a director of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme, an alternate on the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission and a member of the Electricity Authority Retail Advisory group.