Rights to a refund at Christmas

What can you do if your Christmas gift turns out to be a dud?

Can I take it back?

Every year the festive season sees Australians spending a heck of a lot of money. This year, for example, average expenditure on Christmas gifts alone is expected to vary across the nation from around $500 to $650 per person, according to a Commonwealth Bank Christmas spending study.

All this gift giving and receiving can be pretty lovely – but what happens if the gift you receive turns out to be a dud? It's worth refreshing your memory on your rights to a refund.

Luckily, the Australian Consumer Law provides a range of consumer protections against dud products. 

When can you return a product for a refund?

  • If the product is faulty (or doesn't meet the consumer guarantees), you're entitled to return it for a refund, repair or replacement (the type of remedy you're entitled to will depend on whether it is a major or minor failure.  Don't be deterred by salespeople that are ignorant (it's no excuse) or "no refund" signs (they're illegal).
    • If the problem is "major", you can ask for a refund or a replacement rather than a repair.
    • If the problem is "minor", the seller may choose to offer you a refund, replacement or repair.
  • You can't necessarily return a product just because you don't like it. You'll need to read the store's returns policy for change of mind returns.

So what's major and what's minor?

Product problems fall into one of two categories – major or minor faults – each with its own set of rights.

There is a major failure with a product when:

  • you would not have purchased it had you known about the problem
  • it is significantly different from the description, sample or demonstration you were shown
  • it is substantially unfit for its normal purpose
  • it is unsafe.

For purchases with major failures you may reject the goods and get a refund or an identical replacement.

Minor failures include small problems with products that do not fit into the major failure categories, for example, loose threads on clothing.

For items with minor failures the seller may choose to offer you a refund, replacement or repair. This must be provided free of charge and within a reasonable time period. If it is a minor failure you cannot immediately reject the goods and demand a refund; you must give the supplier a chance to fix the problem.

Don't I need the receipt?

Not necessarily – although you will need some sort of proof of purchase. In fact, you don't even need to return the product in its original packaging. You can use the following as proof of purchase:

  • the receipt (if the gift giver still has it)
  • a credit card statement that itemises the goods
  • a confirmation or receipt number from a phone or internet transaction
  • a warranty card showing the date, price and place of purchase
  • the serial or production number if it's stored on the retailer's computer.

Warranties and your rights

Even after the Christmas gift giving season has passed, many products have what are called "express" warranties (and some extended warranties). It's worth remembering that regardless of lapsed warranties, the ACL's consumer guarantees require a product to be of "acceptable quality" throughout its reasonable life. This length of time can be determined by the court; however, it may often be longer than the warranty period, especially in the case of an expensive product such as electronics or whitegoods.

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