Buying during sales
A new year has just begun and has brought with it the now popular January sales. Price-conscious consumers look forward to these sales to get better value for their money by buying goods at a significantly reduced price.
What consumers should constantly bear in mind when shopping during sales is that no matter how low the price for a particular item is, their consumer rights do not go away and cannot be taken away by anyone.
This basically means that if a product purchased at a discounted price turns out to be faulty, the legal rights consumers have are exactly the same during the sales period as at any other time of year.
In such a situation, consumers can either expect the faulty product to be repaired or replaced. If neither of these two remedies is available or possible without causing significant inconvenience to the consumer, then a part or full refund may also be claimed.
No company policy can ever take away these basic consumer rights. Traders sometimes display signs during sales, saying items bought during the sales cannot be exchanged or refunded. When it comes to defective or non-conforming goods, such notices become illegal and unenforceable.
However, what retailers can do is change or restrict their return policies. Change-of-mind situations are not covered by consumer law and hence goods that are not faulty can only be returned under the terms and conditions that were agreed on between consumer and trader at the point of sale.
Usually, shops are quite flexible when it comes to returning and exchanging unwanted goods. This flexibility becomes more restricted during sales. It is therefore always worth double-checking a shop’s return policy before buying anything.
Consumers should also bear in mind that their legal right to a remedy does not apply to faults that are apparent or that have been brought to the consumer’s attention before the product was purchased.
So if, for example, a dress sold at a reduced price has a small stain on it and the consumer was told about this, then the consumer does not have the legal right to claim a remedy. The same applies if consumers find a fault in an item and ask for a discount. If, however, a different fault develops, then consumers have the same rights as if the product was purchased at the original price.
Consumers may also find themselves in a situation where the goods they have purchased before the sales turn out to be defective and their prices reduced. When this happens, if the only possible remedy is a refund of the money paid, the refund price should be the price paid at the time of purchase and not the discounted price.
In these situations, it would be very useful to present the receipt as proof of the price paid. If, on the other hand, there is no fault with the goods, and consumers return them during the sales, then the shop will most likely be only willing to exchange or refund the reduced price.
Major price reduction claims should always be taken with a pinch of salt. It is advisable to do some homework before the sales period starts. Consumers may, for instance, check and take note of pre-sale prices to verify the genuineness of the sale advertised.
It is illegal for shops to display reduced prices when in actual fact such goods were never sold at that particular price. Moreover, when a shop displays a comparison in prices, the previous price should be the last price at which the goods were available before the sales period.
It is also against the law to put new stock on sale. Sale products must have been displayed at a higher price for 28 consecutive days in the previous six months in the same outlet before actually being sold at a discounted price.
During sales it is always advisable to first shop around and see what other shops are offering. Only by doing so can consumers spot where the real bargains are.
Consumers should also rem- ember it is a misleading and illegal practice for shops to display signs advertising that all products have been reduced by 50 per cent when items not on sale or discounted at a lower percentage are actually being sold.
Consumers encountering any misleading practices or who feel their consumer rights are not being respected by the trader, may file a report to the Consumer and Competition Department by calling freephone 8007 4400.
Ms Vella is senior information officer, Consumer and Competition Department.