OPINION: What you need to know about returns

Being well over the hype and drama of Black Friday, this column was going to be about a man whose bakkie was stolen from a dealership.

And quite a story it is too, with sobering lessons for the rest of us.

But that’s on hold now, because I’ve decided to stay with things Black Friday. Not because as I write this, major online shopping sites are wobbling and collapsing or because the spend-fest continues today with Cyber Monday and only ends tomorrow on Takealot.

What did it was witnessing a representative of a local consumer organisation say, when asked for his Black Friday advise to consumers: “We have the Consumer Protection Act, you have a right to return the goods (if) you get home, you are sober, not excited anymore, and you decide you don’t want these goods, you have a right to return those goods back to the shop.”

For a long time, I’ve wondered where South Africans have got the idea that they have a legal right to return goods – often they add “within seven days” – that are in perfectly good order; they just don’t want them anymore.

It’s a very widespread, entrenched idea, and it makes for ugly scenes at returns counters across the land.

It doesn’t help that many retailers will take back “change of heart” goods under certain conditions: that customer service is misinterpreted as a legal right by many consumers.

And then a supposed consumer affairs expert goes on TV and tells the nation that if you come to your senses after partaking in that in-store contact sport called Black Friday, you can sommer just take what you’ve bought back on a less frantic day.

He didn’t go as far as saying you could get your money back, but I’m pretty sure that would have been the assumption most viewers made.

So here’s what every consumer – and retailer – needs to know about returns:

lYou have no legal right to return anything if it is not defective.

Many stores do take back non-defective goods, including the major online retail sites, but understand that it’s done at their discretion, so they get to decide on the terms and conditions. So please check what those conditions are BEFORE you buy.

lIn most cases, you won’t get your money back – they’ll give you a voucher to the value of what you bought, so they don’t lose the sale. Fair enough.

lThere are however, a couple of situations which entitle you get your money back even if what you’ve bought, is not defective: if you buy as a result of a direct marketing deal, or if the features and capabilities of a product were wrongly described by the salesperson or sales literature.

What’s a direct marketing deal?

One which is initiated by the company, via a marketing message directly to you personally; be it sending you a promotional SMS or e-mail; calling you with a cellphone contract offer or stopping you in a mall to demonstrate a product to you.

In that case, you have five business days to cancel – and it must be in writing – for a full refund.

lBut if within six months of purchase, a product breaks, fails or becomes unfit for purpose in some way – and not because you accidentally broke it or abused it – you have a lot of rights.

You get to return it for YOUR choice of a refund, replacement or repair. Even if you don’t have the original packaging. Even if you bought it on a massive sale like Black Friday. But you must have proof of purchase.


Seeing red because of a Black Friday promo that wasn’t?

Nadine Horton was in the market for a pram set on Black Friday and having found a discounted 3-in-1 one on the nulababy.co.za website, she added it to her checkout cart.

Then she received an e-mail from the company confirming her would-be purchase and stating: “Reclaim your cart in the next three days and receive 10% off your order”.

That sealed the deal for her, so she made payment, at their discount price minus the 10%, using the voucher code the retailer had given her, and the money went from her credit card.

“Now they’ve e-mailed me saying I need to make payment of the outstanding 10% because discount codes don’t apply to promotional products, and that it’s stated in their terms and conditions.”

Under those terms and conditions, the following appears: “Discounted codes CANNOT be used in conjunction with any promotional items. Our system is not able to block these transactions, however should we receive an item that’s been discounted and used in conjunction with the coupon code we have the right to request that the balance be paid or the order will unfortunately have to be cancelled.”

When I queried this with Nulababy, a company spokesman said Horton had to have ticked that she’d read the terms and conditions before proceeding with the purchase.

Not good enough.

In fact, highly misleading.

Yes, she should have read the terms and conditions, but she shouldn’t have had to do more clicking to find out that the promo code she was offered in an

e-mail, on Black Friday, specific to her would-be purchase, may not apply.

On Black Friday, particularly, extra discounts are expected.

The company’s “system” needs a consumer-friendly upgrade, urgently.


E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za

Twitter: @wendyknowler

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