Our new research has found that just 38% of Australians have asked for a refund, replacement or repair in the last five years because a product did not work or was not what they asked for.
And with Australians expected to spend a record $21 billion in stores and online during the post-Christmas sales, we're encouraging everyone not to put up with dodgy products and to feel confident in asking for a refund, repair or replacement.
In September 2021, we surveyed more than 1000 Australians about their experiences when exercising their consumer rights. We found a surprising disparity in results between different age groups.
Young Australians aged 18-34 were the most likely (49%) of any age group to ask for a refund, replacement or repair in the last five years because a product did not work or was not what they asked for. Just 24% of older Australians aged 65-75 had asked for a remedy in the same situation.
"While we're happy to see 49% of young Australians leading the charge when asking for a refund, replacement or repair, we want all Australians to feel just as confident in exercising their consumer rights when they need to," says CHOICE director of campaigns and communications, Erin Turner.
Paying the price
Our survey also asked Australians about the cost of living, and found the majority (59%) of respondents said they were either getting by or finding it difficult.
Seven in 10 also indicated that their household bills had increased in the past 12 months, making it more important than ever for all Australians to exercise their consumer rights so they don't waste money on shonky products or services
"By knowing your rights when a product you bought doesn't work, or wasn't what you asked for, you can avoid additional financial strain," says CHOICE managing editor, Margaret Rafferty.
If you've splashed some cash on gifts at Christmas or are thinking of picking up some bargains in the Boxing Day sales, our guide to understanding your rights will help you get a remedy if the product or service just isn't up to scratch.
1. Know your rights
Australian businesses are bound by the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) which sets out consumer rights – these are called 'consumer guarantees' and are as follows:
You're entitled to ask for a repair, replacement or refund if:
- a product isn't fit for purpose
- a product doesn't match the description
- a product is significantly different from what you expected
- the business made extra promises it hasn't kept
- spare parts and repairs aren't available
- the business didn't have the right to sell you the goods.
Similar guarantees apply to services, which must:
- be performed with proper care and skill
- be fit for a particular purpose or achieve the result you expected
- be delivered within a reasonable time, or by the end date in a contract.
These guarantees cover all kinds of products and services, such as gifts, online products and services from Australian businesses.
Sale items covered too
Crucially, for this time of year, the consumer guarantees also cover any items you buy in sales. The guarantees may even cover second-hand products, depending on their age and condition.
Major vs minor failures
When a product or service fails to meet a consumer guarantee, your right to choose a remedy depends on whether it's a major or minor failure.
A problem is major if at least one of these applies:
- You can't use the item.
- Repairs can't be made quickly or at all.
- It's unsafe.
- You wouldn't have bought the item if you'd known about the problem.
- The product has two or more minor failures, and you wouldn't have bought the product if you'd known the nature and extent of these failures. (Note: These failures don't need to relate to the same consumer guarantee.)
If it's a major failure, you can ask for your choice of a repair, replacement or refund. If you want a refund, the seller can't make you accept a credit note or exchange or replacement.
An example of a major failure might be a new laptop whose screen becomes discoloured and unreadable – through no fault of your own – shortly after you bought it.
Minor failures are any that can be fixed within a reasonable period of time.
If the fault is minor, you can ask for your preferred remedy. But ultimately it's up to the retailer to decide whether to offer a repair, refund or replacement.
A minor fault could be loose threading on a piece of clothing you've bought that undermines the look of the garment, but is repairable.
But if a product has two or more minor failures, and you wouldn't have bought it if you'd known the nature and extent of these failures, together they're considered a major failure. (These failures don't need to relate to the same consumer guarantee.)
Keeping your receipts will help smooth the returns process if you need to take something back. But remember that change-of-mind refunds and exchanges are at the retailer's discretion.
2. Always keep your receipts
"Keeping a record of your purchase is always important, especially for high value purchases," says Turner.
"In the worst case scenario, a company or manufacturer might not respect your consumer rights and you may need to go to a court or a tribunal. If this happens, good record keeping will increase your chances of a good result."
If you've lost your receipt, don't despair. According to the ACCC, proof of purchase can also include:
- credit or debit card statement
- a lay-by agreement (when you pay for something in two or more instalments)
- a receipt or reference number given for phone or internet payments
- a warranty card showing the supplier's or manufacturer's details and the date and amount of the purchase
- a serial or production number linked with the purchase on the supplier's or manufacturer's database
- a copy or photograph of the receipt.
3. Change-of-mind refunds aren't guaranteed
If the item you've bought isn't faulty but you've changed your mind, found it at a cheaper price elsewhere or it's an unwanted Christmas or birthday gift, Australian retailers aren't under any legal obligation to give you a refund or exchange.
Many retailers do have change-of-mind policies, but these will be limited by their own terms and conditions
In this situation, it's up to the retailer and entirely dependent on their store policies whether they'll offer you a refund or exchange. As a show of good will, many retailers do have change-of-mind policies, but these will be limited by their own terms and conditions and offered at their own discretion.
It's always worth checking the store's policy before buying, and noting whether you need the original packaging and receipt for a change-of-mind remedy.
4. You don't need an extended warranty
Sometimes businesses may try to sell you an extended warranty, but in most cases they're unnecessary.
That's because the ACL already gives you consumer guarantees, meaning retailers must offer you a refund, repair or replacement for any item that has a major failure within for a reasonable amount of time.
"If a salesperson is pushing an extended warranty, ask them 'what does this provide me that I don't already get under the Australian Consumer Law?'" says Turner.
- Approach the retailer respectfully and explain how the product is faulty.
- Make sure you have your receipt or a credible proof of purchase if the retailer asks to see one.
- Work out whether the product's fault is major or minor so you're aware of your consumer rights in your circumstances.
- Discuss your options on returning the product with the retailer. If it has a major fault, decide whether you'd prefer a refund, replacement or repair.
- If it has a minor fault, decide whether you'd prefer a replacement or repair. If the latter, get an idea of how long the repair will take. If the timeframe seems unreasonable, seek out alternative repairers and notify the retailer that they're obliged to compensate you for the cost.
- If you're unhappy with the business's response, you can escalate your complaint by reporting it to the ACCC and contacting your state's fair trading agency.
Did you know?
- Signs that say things like "No refunds", "No refunds on sale items" or "Exchange or credit note only for return of sale items" aren't legal.
- Retailers can't fob you off to the item's manufacturer – they're obliged to resolve your issue themselves.
- You should be told if a replacement is second-hand or if the business has used refurbished parts to repair it.
- Repairs must be made within a reasonable time. Mobile phones and fridges, for instance, must be given high priority, or you can demand a replacement.
- You don't have to return a product in its original packaging.