Sales and deposits
Sometimes goods are ordered and then delivered to consumers at an agreed date. These purchases are normally concluded with a contract of sale that stipulates the type of product purchased, the price agreed and a specific delivery date.
Once these contract terms are agreed upon by both parties they become legally binding. This means that neither the consumer nor the seller can change their mind or fail to honour the sales agreement without consequences.
Sales and discounted prices are often beneficial to consumers as desired products can be bought at reduced prices. Consumers may, however, encounter situations where after paying a deposit on a product, the same product is then reduced in price. Should this happen, consumers do not have the legal right to request the seller to amend the original sales agreement. In other words, consumers cannot request the seller to reduce the original price and sell the ordered product at the sale price.
Having said that, consumers can still talk to the trader and ask him to consider to amend the price of the ordered product to match the current sales offer. If, however, the seller insists that the agreed price cannot be changed, then consumers have no other alternative but to adhere to the original sales agreement. In such situations, consumers should think twice before threatening the seller with the cancellation of the sales agreement. Consumers must not forget that if they opt to cancel a contract of sale, they may not only lose the deposit paid but the seller may oblige them to honour the sales contract and pay the full amount due.
Prices of products ordered before sales cannot be changed to match the current discounted prices
A sales contract can also work in favour of consumers as the agreed price cannot be increased by the seller. If the ordered product’s price is increased by the manufacturing company, the difference in price cannot be lumped on the consumer unless this possible change is specifically stipulatd in the contract of sale. When there is this possibility, the contract clauses must mention the specific situations where the agreed price could increase.
Sales contracts may be cancelled and deposits refunded when the seller is unable to provide the product or service ordered or if the agreed delivery date cannot be honoured. Consumers are also entitled to claim a refund if the goods ordered are delivered damaged and cannot be replaced or the goods do not conform to the original sales agreement.
Even though sales contracts are legally binding, it is still in the consumers’ best interest to pay the least possible amount of deposit. Usually it is the seller who suggests the amount of deposit, but if consumers think that the amount asked for is not reasonable, they can negotiate a different amount.
Consumers should remember that they are paying money for something which is still not in their possession and hence various problems can crop up. Consumers are hence advised to cling to their money until the product or service ordered is delivered as agreed.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Reserach Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.