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Merry Christmas, and many happy returns

Delia Rickard
5th December, 2017

Gift giving is synonymous with Christmas, as is returning an unwanted present. ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard explains your rights.

As a child, there are few experiences more joyful than opening the perfect gift at Christmas that you’ve been waiting for all year.

As an adult, there are few experiences more uncomfortable than opening an unwanted gift at Christmas and wondering if you can return it … after you’ve thanked the gift giver for their kindness and generosity, of course.

If you are going to return a gift, it is essential that you know your rights under Australian Consumer Law.

The bad news is that consumer guarantees do not apply if you just don’t like something, have changed your mind or you know where you could get it for a cheaper price.

The best first step in this situation is to speak to the retailer. Most businesses have a clear procedure in place setting out how they will deal with “change of mind” purchases, and while you may not get a cash refund on the unwanted item, you may get a store credit. The store will likely ask for proof of purchase. The easiest way to do this is to produce the receipt but there are also other ways to prove it was purchased there.

If the gift has a problem you may be able to use your consumer guarantee rights and ask for a repair, replacement or refund. The remedy you’re entitled to will depend on whether the issue is major or minor. A minor fault allows the business to choose what to provide, but for major faults, you get to choose. A guide as to whether a good has a major fault, think about the following:

  • Would I have bought this product if I had known about the fault?
  • Is it unsafe?
  • Is it significantly different from the sample or description?
  • Does it not do what the business said it would, or what you asked for?
  • Can it be easily fixed?

Consumer guarantees apply to all products and services sold in Australia. This means products must be of acceptable quality, which means they must be safe, durable and do all the things someone would normally expect for the type of product and cost.

Products must also:

  • match descriptions made by the salesperson, on packaging and labels, and in promotions or advertising
  • match any demonstration model or sample you asked for
  • be fit for the purpose the business told you it would be fit for and for any purpose that you made known to the business before purchasing
  • come with full title and ownership
  • meet any extra promises made about performance, condition and quality, such as life time guarantees and money back offers
  • have spare parts and repair facilities available for a reasonable time after purchase unless you were told otherwise.

Services also come with guarantees. For example, services must:

  • be provided with acceptable care and skill or technical knowledge and taking all necessary steps to avoid loss and damage
  • be fit for the purpose or give the results that you and the business had agreed to
  • be delivered within a reasonable time when there is no agreed end date.

Consumer guarantees on products and services also apply to:

  • bundled products and services
  • gifts with proof of purchase
  • online products and services
  • second-hand products from businesses, taking into account age and condition
  • sale items

The good news is that in most cases, retailers should know their obligations and will rectify any problems. This includes dealing with the issue themselves and not sending you to the manufacturer or importer for a remedy.  You should also be aware that you may not have to return products in the original packaging in order to get a refund.

If unresolved, contact the ACCC or your state consumer affairs agency for assistance.

Merry Christmas (and happy gift giving) from the ACCC.

Delia Rickard is Deputy Chair of the ACCC and specialises in consumer protection.

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