You've just made an exciting new purchase and not long after, the product breaks unexpectedly. We've all been there, and after dealing with the initial frustration, perhaps the biggest question you have is: What can I do next? This guide can help you deal with a retailer if a product hasn't worked out the way you had anticipated.
The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) provides you with a number of consumer guarantees when you buy something in-store or online.
The business you buy from guarantees your product is of 'acceptable quality', which means it:
- does everything that you reasonably expect of it
- is of acceptable appearance
- is safe, durable, and has no defects.
So when you buy a fridge for example, your expectations will be that food will be kept cool, there will be no scratches or dents, and when opening, the door won't fall off. If any of these things do happen, you're probably looking at a major failure.
This may seem obvious, but by law, the product you've bought needs to do what it's supposed to do – or in the words of the ACL, it has to be 'fit for purpose'.
A swimsuit that becomes see-through when wet, or a mountain bike that isn't suitable for off-road use are two examples where items aren't fit for purpose.
You may not be able to to argue that something isn't fit for purpose in situations where you rely on the skill and judgement of the supplier (the business who sold it to you).
For example: You're in the market for a diving watch and see one that looks similar to one that your friend owns. You decide to purchase the watch without asking whether the watch is suitable to use for diving, but it's a different model, and is only water resistant, rather than waterproof.
You may not be able to make the claim that the watch was not fit for purpose.
When you're sure your product has failed to meet a consumer guarantee, your next step is to decide whether the failure is major or minor.
When you're deciding if there is a major failure, here are the four things to consider:
- You would not have bought the product if you had known about the problem. For example: You would not purchase a laptop if the screen became unreadable within a few weeks.
- The product is significantly different from the description, sample or demonstration model. For example: You order red shorts online to match your sports team's uniform, but the retailer sends you a black pair. In this situation, you can ask for a refund, replacement or compensation.
- The product is unfit for their normal purpose or the purpose specified to the supplier and can't be fixed in a reasonable time. For example: Your new gumboots have a hole in the sole and can't be worn in the rain.
- The product is unsafe. For example: your new toaster sends out sparks when you switch it on
For a major failure, you can request your choice of a refund, replacement or repair (if possible) from the business.
A minor failure is one that can be fixed within a reasonable time frame. A good example of a minor failure is if you find a piece of loose thread on an item of clothing you've just bought.
For a minor failure, the business can offer you a refund, replacement or to repair the product free of charge. If the business refuses to fix the problem or is taking too long, you can ask someone else to fix the problem and request compensation from the retailer.
For major failures, the seller must offer you a refund as one of the available options. They can't make you accept a credit note or exchange or replacement if you tell them that you want a refund.
If the failure is minor, then the business can choose to offer you a repair, refund or a replacement.
For both minor and major failures, any replacement product must be the same type and of similar value as what is being replaced. If that's not possible, you may have to choose between receiving a refund or opting for a repair.
For the most part, a quick phone call may be enough to resolve any problems, but if not, take notes of any conversations you've had with a business including dates and names of people that you've spoken with.
If you find that the retailer is not responsive, you can contact your state or territory's fair trading or consumer protection office.