Silly season shopping: A guide to returns and refunds

Silly season shopping: A guide to returns and refunds

You’ve traipsed the streets, braved the malls and hit “pay now” more times than you can remember. But what happens if your gifts go wrong or your Boxing Day purchases fall flat?


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Returns and refunds

My partner hates the gift I gave them. Can I return it?

Retailers don’t have to refund or exchange an unwanted gift. Some traders will take back a poorly received present in the interests of good customer relations. But the best option to avoid your nearest and dearest being stuck with something they don’t want – or that doesn’t fit – is to ask the store for an exchange card when you make your purchase.

I got the new gadget I wanted, but it’s stopped working. What are my rights?

If the gadget’s faulty – and you haven’t caused the fault – then you’ve got rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA). The act covers gifts you receive, not just things you buy for yourself. If the fault is minor, the retailer should repair the product, replace it or refund the purchase price. For major faults, it’s up to you whether you choose a replacement or a refund.

I bought a gift online, but it doesn’t look like the picture on the website. What can I do?

The CGA has you covered. The act says products have to match their description. So, if what turned up on your doorstep is different from what was advertised online, you don’t have to put up with it. If the retailer can’t provide the product advertised, then you’re entitled to a refund.

I bought it from an overseas website. Do I still have rights?

Your CGA rights only apply when you make a purchase from a retailer operating in our market. When you buy from an overseas website, your rights vary depending on the trader’s returns policy and the consumer laws in the country where the trader is based. Before you order, check how the company deals with returns.

I bought it from a private seller on Trade Me. What happens if I don’t get what I paid for?

Private sellers aren’t covered by the CGA. So if the item you get wasn’t what was advertised, you’ll have to rely on Trade Me’s Buyer Protection policy or the rights you have under the Contract and Commercial Law Act. If you don’t get the item described, you can take the seller to the Disputes Tribunal and seek a refund.

I went crazy at the Boxing Day sales and regret some of my purchases. Can I return stuff?

Sales are no different from any other time you purchase. You can’t return goods because you’ve changed your mind, but you can return sale items if the goods aren’t of acceptable quality. The only caveat is if the item is marked down because it had a defect that was pointed out to you at the time of purchase.

I lost the receipt. Can I still return it?

While you need to prove you bought it from the retailer, you don’t always need a receipt. You can use a bank statement to show proof of purchase. The store may also have a record of your purchase, especially if you used a loyalty card or had your details taken for a warranty.

I bought a product marked down by $50. But the next day I saw the price had dropped further. Am I entitled to a refund?

The retailer doesn’t have to refund you. The only exception would be if you were misled about the product’s price or the sale period when you bought the item – for example, the retailer told you it was the final day of the sale and your last chance to get a discount. In that case, you’d have grounds to request a refund of the full price or the difference between what you paid and the new price.

When it doesn’t work out

Your first port of call is the retailer. When a product isn’t of acceptable quality, take it back to the store, point out the retailer’s CGA obligations and ask it to fix things. If the store won’t do the right thing, you have a couple of other options:

  • Disputes Tribunal: If you get nowhere with the retailer, take your case to the Disputes Tribunal. There’s a filing fee to lodge a claim. It costs:

    • $45, for claims under $2000
    • $90, for claims from $2000 to $4999
    • $180, for claims from $5000 to $20,000.

  • Chargeback: If you paid by credit or debit card, you can ask your bank about a chargeback – a refund of the money you paid. This can be useful if you bought a product from an overseas retailer and it’s not coming to the party.

Consumer Guarantees Act in a nutshell

  • The CGA applies to goods bought for personal use, including gifts. But it doesn’t cover private sales.

  • A retailer can’t contract out of the act. They can’t put up a “No refunds” sign to try to get out of their obligations.

  • Retailers must guarantee goods they sell:

    • are of acceptable quality
    • are fit for purpose
    • match the description given in advertisements or sales brochures, or by the sales assistant
    • match the sample or demonstration model
    • will be owned by the consumer, once purchased
    • will be a reasonable price, if no price or pricing formula has been previously agreed
    • will be delivered on time, where the supplier is responsible for delivery. When no time is agreed, delivery must still be within a reasonable time.
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