In Your Corner
The Black Friday blues
SHOPPING: You can't just return bought items because you don't like them anymore
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.
That's on hold, though, 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 ends only on Tuesday on Takealot. What did it was witnessing a representative of a local consumer organisation say, when asked for his Black Friday advice 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 them 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:
You 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.
In 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.
There are 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 salesman 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 email, 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.
But 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.