Fit for purpose?

From swimming costumes you can’t get wet to see-through exercise pants, CHOICE looks at what you can do about products that don’t meet your expectations.
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02.Can they do that?

A swimming costume that can’t be worn in water, can’t withstand exposure to sunlight or heated swimming pools, or has colour that bleeds could arguably be both of an unacceptable quality and unfit for its purpose. Similarly, a mountain bike that can’t be taken off road isn’t a mountain bike at all, and so could well be in breach of the ACL.

What can you do? 

Under the Australian Consumer Law, goods and services are subject to certain consumer guarantees, including that goods purchased must be of acceptable quality, meaning they must be safe, lasting, with no faults, look acceptable, and most importantly in this case, do all the things someone would normally expect them to do. 

Products must also match descriptions made by the salesperson, on packaging and labels, and in promotions or advertising, and be fit for the purpose you were told they would be fit for. The ACL takes into account what would normally be expected for the type of product and cost, but also warnings and risks drawn to the consumer’s attention (such as on labels). But we think that if a shop tries to rely on a tiny care label to explain that a swimsuit can’t be used in water, or a mountain bike can’t be used off road, then this is unreasonable.

If a seller has not met any of the consumer guarantees, a consumer is entitled to a refund, compensation, repair, or replacement of the goods (which one depends on the circumstances).

Katrina Lee, CHOICE’s strategic policy adviser recommends “if a good you have purchased is not doing the job that you would typically expect under normal circumstances, don’t hesitate in contacting the shop where you purchased it and asking for a repair, replacement or refund. If that fails, contact CHOICE and your local office of consumer affairs or fair trading.”

Top tips

  1. Check care labels on clothing and swimwear before you buy to make sure you’re not getting less than you bargained for.
  2. Don’t make assumptions about products based on looks. Ask the sales assistant if the product you’re purchasing is suitable for the use you have in mind. If they say it is, you’re protected by the ACL’s consumer guarantees should it prove otherwise.
  3. Keep a record of your purchase (and beware of fading receipts) to make returning your goods easier.
  4. If something isn’t fit for its purpose or is not of acceptable quality, take it back to the shop where you purchased it – even if you received it as a gift. If they don’t honour their consumer guarantee, contact the department of fair trading or consumer affairs in your state.
  5. If you bought a product online, it’s still covered by the Australian Consumer Law, so you should still be able to get a replacement or refund, though in practice it may be more difficult for an overseas retailer.
  6. If a retailer refuses to abide by the Australian Consumer Law, you can get consumer help or make a complaint with the ACCC.

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