FAQ: Guarantees, Return policies and Warranties
There is nothing worse than opening the box of your latest shiny gadget only to reveal that it is broken, faulty or has missing parts. We suspect that most people will have experienced the frustration of a laptop or smartphone developing a hardware fault or breaking altogether too within a year or so of purchase. Usually, the best course of action is to contact the company from whom you bought the item directly, but what rights do you have if the company refuses to repair or replace the item? We appreciate that this can be a daunting issue to deal with, so we have created this article to advise you as to what to do if something goes wrong with an item that you have bought.
From the outset, we would like to stress that this will be an overview of guarantees, return policies and warranties in Anglophonic countries like the US, UK, Canada and India. In the case of federalised countries like Canada and the USA, this means that we will cover consumer rights at a federal level. However, we will provide links to state-specific information where possible.
Please bear in mind that this guide is intended as an introduction to complex legal matters in Anglophonic countries and should be treated as such. We would not recommend, nor would we endorse, using this guide instead of independent legal advice.
Moreover, you generally only have rights in law if you have purchased an item from or through a business, regardless of the country or state in which you have bought it. Most of the rules that we will discuss below do not apply when you have bought something from a private seller, although you do retain the right to seek a remedy from a court if the item that you purchased from a private seller is faulty or not as described. We advise seeking independent legal advice before you do this though. Online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay also afford consumers return rights and warranties when buying from private sellers, but these are retailer-specific terms and legal requirements.
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There are no general rights to return goods in the US if you just do not like what you have bought, although state laws in federalised or quasi-federalised countries may vary. However, large retailers like Amazon and Best Buy have their own returns policies, which do allow customers to return items that they no longer want. Best Buy has a 15-day standard returns policy on “most products”, while only 14 days applies to smartphones and other devices that “can be activated”. Please keep in mind that retailers may charge a restocking fee if you would like to return an opened item for a refund. Best Buy charges US$35 in restocking fees for unlocked smartphones and 15% for devices like DLSR cameras, camcorders and electric bikes among others. This does not apply to unopened items though.
However, if your item is faulty, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises that you first write to the manufacturer. The FTC has provided a sample complaint letter should you need it, but you can also go back to the store with a receipt to resolve matters more quickly.
The FTC also advises contacting your state or local consumer protection office if you cannot find a resolution with the seller or manufacturer. Please find a full list of state consumer protection offices here. Finally, if all else fails the FTC suggests considering taking the matter to a small claims court if the dispute is for less than US$750 or filing a lawsuit if the item is worth more than that. You can check your small claims court limits for each state here.
By contrast, most retailers in the UK typically have a 28/30-day returns policy and consumers have a 14-day cooling off period for catalogue, phone or Internet sales. Retailers generally increase their returns policies around Christmas, but there are exceptions to returning your item within 14 days of receiving it. The right to return does not apply to CDs, DVDs or software if you opened the box. Moreover, you will lose your right to cancel an order for a digital download once you start downloading it.
Most consumer law in the UK can be found in the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which replaced the Sales of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Supply of Goods and Services Act. The CRA 2015 outlines that all products, including those that are digital, must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. These rights only apply against the retailer from whom you bought the item and not the manufacturer, so you must take matters up with the retailer to repair or replace a faulty product.
The Consumers’ Association, more commonly known as Which?, has a complaint tool that can provide you with a letter to send to the retailer if you are unsure what to do. The Faulty Goods Complaint tool can be found here.
Consumers in India are protected by the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, which governs all business to consumer sales across national, state and district levels. The International Consumer Rights Protection Council (ICRPC), which is a non-government organisation (NGO), can help file complaints against businesses and it can even prepare court papers should you need to resolve the matter through a consumer court.
There are also consumer protection councils established at state and district levels, including the Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. You can also contact the National Consumer Helpline if you are unsure about which consumer protection council to contact.
Retailers are only legally obliged to accept returns if the item concerned is defective or faulty. However, the Federal Provincial Territorial Consumer Measures Committee states most retailers will offer refunds or exchanges, but it recommends first asking a seller about their refund or exchange policy before you buy something.
If you are having trouble returning something, then you should contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office. A full list of consumer affairs offices, including their telephone numbers, email addresses and websites, can be found in the Canadian Consumer Handbook.
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Consumers in Australia are protected by the Australian Consumer Laws (ACL), which can be found in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA). All products and services come with automatic guarantees, the main ones of which are that a product must be safe, look acceptable and work as expected. A full list of automatic guarantees can be found on the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) website. The ACCC has a comprehensive guide on your rights to have something repaired, replaced or refunded too, which you can find here.
There are also state and territory consumer protection agencies, which are also known as consumer affairs agencies. You can find the full list of agencies and contact details on the ACCC website. You may also be entitled to seeking a resolution through a local state or territory small claims court, but we recommend seeking independent legal advice before you do so. You can find the full list and websites of state small claims courts here.
The Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 (CGA) and Fair Trading Act 1986 underpin consumer rights in New Zealand. Like the CCA 2010, the CGA 1993 covers business to consumer purchases if they are faulty, do not function as expected or are of a poor quality. The CGA 1993 applies to new and second-hand goods, including software.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has an extensive guide on what rights the CGA 1993 affords consumers and what is also not covered by either the CGA 1993 or the FTA 1986, like private sales. The MBIE recommends contacting the retailer or manufacturer if something goes wrong with your item and detail how you would like the matter to be resolved. Again, the MBIE has extensive guides on how to complain and what to do if you cannot resolve the matter with the retailer or manufacturer, the latter of which can be found here.
Consumer rights in Ireland are protected by EU law, but also principally by the Sales of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980 and the Consumer Protection Act 2007. All goods purchased from a business must be fit for sale, purpose and as described. Like UK law, in Ireland you must return faulty goods to the supplier and not the manufacturer along with a proof of purchase. This can be a receipt, bank statement or an invoice.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) can help you resolve claims and offer extensive advice on what to do when you receive faulty goods, as can Citizens Information. If you are unable to resolve the matter with the supplier or retailer, then you may want to consider taking the matter to the small claims court. Citizens Information has a thorough guide on small claims procedures in Ireland, which you can find here.