Many of us are taking small steps towards a return to the world outside with the re-opening of many shops this week, but the past three months of being largely confined to our homes has meant even more of us relying on our technology to shop. From the weekly food shop, to replacing items that have packed in, or even just to treat ourselves, we’ve been logging on for more, more often.
What this has meant is that while many of us have seen the benefits of online shopping, there has also been a harsher light shone on the problems consumers face when they can’t or perhaps now don’t want to shop in-store. Since lockdown began, we’ve noticed the rise of new kinds of complaints with countless people getting in touch to say that while retailers are selling goods, they’re less than able or willing to deal with returns or answer customer service enquiries.
The good news is your consumer rights haven’t changed when it comes to goods and services bought online, but the pandemic has brought new situations in to play, including positives like extended return times for even items bought in-store before lockdown, but also shops not letting you send things back. So, Resolver CEO Alex Neill was on hand this morning on the BBC’s Your Money and Your Life to run through the top questions from consumers on shopping in the pandemic from how to contact providers to getting your money back when you need to return that faulty product.
For more information here’s our guide on where you stand, whether you’re an online shopping convert or you still want to shop in the outside world.
Shopping and returns – know your rights
Where do my basic shopping rights come from?
- The Consumer Rights Act (which came in to play in October 2015) gives you the bulk of your shopping rights. For items bought prior to the act, it’s the Sale of Goods Act (1979)
- The act covers goods and services (including digital goods) and whether they are ‘satisfactory quality, as described or fit for purpose’. If the goods you buy don’t fit in to these categories you can seek a refund, replacement or repair depending on when things go wrong.
What are my rights if I want to return a purchase but there’s nothing wrong with it?
- The good news is if the item was bought online or on the phone then you have 14 days to return it under the Consumer Contract Regulations 2013. In-store is different though and will depend on the shop’s policy.
When do I get the money?
- Aside from your rights buying goods online, 14 is a useful number to remember. The retailer has 14 days to refund you from the point they receive the goods (or when you tell them if the goods are digital). That includes delivery costs for returning the item (but they only have to pay the cheapest option available, so you might end up covering the difference).
What if the goods are faulty?
- You’ve got lots of rights when it comes to goods or services that don’t work. However, there are certain time limits you need to bear in mind.
- The rules (in this case, the Consumer Rights Act 2015) say that you have 30 days from the date the goods were purchased to return the item if it’s wonky or isn’t as it was described.
- You’re entitled to a full refund if the goods are returned within 30 days. Bear in mind it will go in to the account of the person returning it, so if the item was a gift, the person who bought the gift will need to organise the refund.
What if it’s over the 30 days?
- If goods are faulty you have up to six months to return the items – and the burden of proof is on the retailer to prove the item wasn’t wonky or refund you. They are allowed to have one crack at a repair or replacing the item, but after that, you can ask for a refund.
- Even if it’s beyond six months, all is not lost, though you’ll need to prove why you didn’t realise the item was damaged or that the problem isn’t just down to wear and tear. Be prepared to compromise though. You could be looking at a repair or a replacement – and if the product has been upgraded since, you aren’t entitled to the upgraded version.
What about individual stores and their returns policies?
- A retailer can’t ignore the law, but many offer better returns policies to keep you as a loyal customer. Many stores have increased their timescales for returning goods during the pandemic, but don’t be complacent. Check before and after you order and pop the date in your diary a few weeks before it’s due.
What if the provider of goods or services says the item isn’t faulty?
- The key thing here is whether the goods are ‘satisfactory quality’, ‘fit for purpose’ or ‘as described’. The latter option is pretty straightforward. Compare the item’s description with what you’ve got and if it’s misleading (not as described), make a complaint.
- ‘Fit for purpose’ is important to remember because you might not realise an item isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing until you’ve started using it – which might be some time after it was purchased. So if you’ve ordered blackout curtains that don’t actually black out the light, you can argue they’re not fit for purpose.
- ‘Satisfactory quality’ is pretty subjective. For example, if you go to a restaurant and don’t like your food after eating it all you’re not going to get very far. But if you’d asked in advance for a vegetarian option but one isn’t provided when you arrive, you clearly haven’t been given what you wanted. So a good starting point is asking ‘does it do what it says on the tin?’ If not, take the time to explain why you haven’t got what you thought you were getting.
What about COVID-19 – how can I be sure I can get my money back?
All these rights are great, but how are you supposed to return goods if your post office is closed? What if the firm isn’t accepting returns? And what do you do if you’re shielding or self isolating?
It’s come to our attention that some stores have changed their returns policies. This probably hasn’t been done for sinister reasons – it’s more a lack of staff to process and manage the returns.
But because the wording on some websites is so confusing, it’s not instilling confidence. Worse, some firms have worded things in such a way that it implies that your right to return has been officially stopped. It hasn’t, the firm is just saying it can’t deal with it now.
We believe that a business that can sell you stuff should also be able to take it back, but leaving that aside, your right to return should not be affected by this. The timescales in this guide still apply, but should have been extended so you know how long you have to return items and get refunds. Many shops say they’ll do this when they reopen, but we expect them to be reasonable about your personal circumstances.
If you’re concerned about a return or refund, contact the firm and explain your circumstances and ask them to go through your options. Get a written response by email or even text if you can.
If you feel you’ve missed out on the time you have to return goods due to not being informed by the business, or that you’re not getting the answers you need Resolver can help for free.