In any consumer based environment it is likely that there will be a requirement to allow consumers to return goods that they no longer want or are faulty in some sort of way. Whilst there are limited options available to consumers that simply changed their minds and this is a commercial matter for the seller to decide, there are certain legal requirements that need to be met when it comes to faulty goods or those that are not as described in some sort of way.
Basic Return of Goods
From a legal point of view goods can be returned by law when they are faulty in some way or another. When goods are being provided to a consumer the rules under the Sales of Goods Act 1979 require that they meet with certain conditions. The goods must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. It is this later element that is the most hotly debated as fit for purpose not only refers to the common and reasonable purpose of the goods but also for any other purpose that the seller became aware of during the course of the sale.
When Goods Can’t be Returned
In certain circumstances a consumer will not be able to return goods by right. Many companies will offer greater opportunities for returns that are in excess of the statutory minimum purely in order to maintain good relationships with customers. This however should not be relied upon and from a legal point of view only the statutory requirements need be met.
Goods cannot be returned for reasons such as the consumer changing their mind or due to a fault with the goods that were pointed out to the consumer at the point of purchase. Care needs to be taken in terms of ensuring that such faults are documented at the item of sale and any restrictions on the ability to return goods such as earnings or underwear should be made very clear at the point of purchase.
The Three Statutory Rights on Sales of Goods
Under the Sales of Goods Act there are three statutory requirements that are necessary as part of the consumer sales process. These are that the goods are as described, that the goods are fit for purpose and they are of satisfactory quality. ‘As described’ can refer to both written and oral representations although obviously there are issues of evidence with verbal descriptions. Descriptions of colour, quantity etc will all be relevant in this regard.
Fit for purpose is an area of difficulty and is commonly the source of dispute. Fit for purpose refers to the purposes that has been agreed between the seller and the consumer. For example where the seller has informed the consumer that the printer would be compatible with the computer and it is not the printer would not be fit for purpose.
The product must also be of satisfactory quality based on the nature of the product and the reasonable expectations that would surround such a product. As a general rule it is expected that goods will last at least six months from the date of purchase and any fault that arises in this period would be likely to be viewed as making the goods not fit for purpose.
These statutory rights cannot be contracted out of and therefore this is why it is often seen in shops that the statutory rights will not be excluded.
Remedies for Faulty Goods
In order to get a full refund it is necessary that the customer brings the goods back within a reasonable period of time. This would mean that if the goods had been used then it would not be reasonable to expect a full refund. Essentially the consumer has the opportunity to state what they would like however issues such as the likely cost of the remedy being sought would be prohibitive or unreasonable.
Repair and Replacement
Repair and replacement is also a viable option when it comes to the return of the goods. Typically this will be offered where the goods are returned as faulty but the consumer still wants the product or a product that has the same effect. Where a repair is undertaken it should not unduly inconvenience the consumer therefore any repair that is likely to take a long period of time would be deemed unacceptable.
Actions for sellers to take to comply with the Sales of Goods Act
Sellers need to be fully aware of the requirements under the sales of goods act and need to ensure that all staff are suitably trained.
A strict returns policy needs to be put in place that all staff follow with timelines put in place for repairs.
Make sure that all descriptions given both in writing and verbally are accurate and that sales staff are sufficiently skilled to offer opinions and advice where necessary.
Ensure that the relationships are in place with the suppliers where appropriate to manage returns inline with the statutory requirements.