WENDY KNOWLER | Selling something online? Don’t fall for this and refund fails

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s 'Watch-outs of the week'

10 June 2022 - 15:07
By Wendy Knowler
Always read the small print before signing a contract.
Image: 123RF/LUKAS GOJDA Always read the small print before signing a contract.

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

No, you don’t always have a right to a refund

It seems I can’t repeat this advice often enough. When you buy something in a physical shop — as opposed to online — please query their return policy. Do not assume that if you no longer want what you’ve purchased, you can simply take it back and get a refund.

The store has no legal obligation to take it back at all, much less give you a refund. That’s what I’ve just told Jill, who’d spent R1,209 on bath mats at a branch of a well-known home décor store, and wanted to return them for a refund.

“I don't know how it happened but my slips were not in the packet,” she said. “They said they needed them to give me a refund otherwise they could only give me a voucher to that value.

“As a consumer, do I have a right to insist that they refund me on my credit card, rather than give me a voucher?”

No, not unless those mats develop a defect within six months of purchase, and even then, a retailer has a right to demand proof of purchase before offering any recourse, and a credit card statement doesn’t have enough detail on it to tick that box.

So the offer of a voucher in Jill’s case was actually a favour: the store had no legal obligation to take those mats back at all.

Very few retailers refund in such cases, even on presentation of a “till slip” — an exchange or credit is the usual response, and again, it’s not a legal requirement.

“What bad luck,” said Jill.

It’s only with online purchases that you have the benefit of a week’s cooling-off period in which to change your mind and return it for a refund. What a pity she didn’t buy those bath mats online.

It’s your contract — get your hands on it!

Last November Olivia went into a Cape Town branch of a national car tracking company to sign a contract but, she said, she was the victim of a set-up.

“I was taken into a room with a salesman who signed me up to the R159 per month option. I asked if it was a month-to-month contract, and his response was: “Yes, R159 per month.”

“He showed me where to sign and when it came to the terms and conditions he told me I was signing for installation and that my account would be debited for R159 per month — he still didn’t let me read it.”

Red flags don’t come bigger than that. Sure enough, in February this year, when Olivia wanted to cancel the contract, she discovered she’d actually signed a three-year contract, and getting out of it was going to cost her a whopping R2,600 as an early cancellation fee.

“I told the company how I was misled but they never came back to me. I would never have signed up if I knew it was a three-year contract.”

Unfortunately, Olivia can’t prove she was misled.

Her signature is on the contract and the assumption is that she read and agreed with the terms on it.

It’s our responsibility as consumers to read the small print, and it’s particularly essential if that print is very small and faint, or if the salesperson seems reluctant for you to read it.

Vehicle tracking contracts are only “month to month” — meaning you can cancel for no penalty by giving a month’s notice — after the initial three-year contract period. Or if you choose to pay for the tracking device separately up front, which very few people do.

Selling something online? Don’t fall for this ...

Linde almost fell for a scam when he advertised a cupboard for sale on a free online classifieds site, and he asked me to warn others. With pleasure.

“Someone responded to the advert, saying they were interested in buying it.

“The buyer said he would pay the full amount to the courier company, then I would receive a link and could draw my money. I wanted an EFT rather, but they said it works like this.

“It all looked good, but when I wanted to get the funds via that link, it seemed as though I was paying THEM, not the other way round,” Linde said.

When he queried this with the courier company, they confirmed it was a scam, and the cupboard never left his house.

Rules for selling online: Never agree to take your conversation onto WhatsApp if you’re selling something on an online classifieds site. And always wait for the money to reflect in your bank account before releasing the goods, no matter what the “buyer” tells you.

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 GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.

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