Your Post-Christmas Guide To Refunds, Exchanges And Warranties

We spend the months leading up to Christmas in a frenzy of shopping, but some of us then spend the days afterwards trying to exchange unwanted gifts or get faulty presents repaired. Know your legal rights before you hit the stores and you're much more likely to get a good outcome. Lifehacker sums up your entitlements when it comes to refunds, exchanges and warranties.

Picture by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Australian consumer protection laws were harmonised earlier this year, which is a good thing: we no longer have to deal with a widely varying set of state laws. But that doesn't mean that retailers and individuals still don't have misconceptions about what is and isn't required.

The most important rule of all: stay polite

It's worth saying this up front: the best way to get a result when you're seeking a refund, exchange or repair is stay polite and stay calm. Getting angry and screaming is only going to raise your blood pressure and irritate the person you're speaking with. Don't be fobbed off, but don't resort to threats and yelling. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission sums up the issue neatly:

If a product that you have purchased is faulty, fails to meet the advertised description or is not fit for purpose consumers are advised to contact the business and explain the problem clearly and calmly and state that you want them to fix the problem. If the business refuses to fix your problem, ask to speak to the manager or write a complaint letter. If the business still refuses to help, contact the ACCC or your local consumer protection agency for assistance.

With that said, we can address some common and specific questions. Note that you'll invariably need to be able to demonstrate that the goods were purchased via that store before getting a refund; some retailers will offer an exchange without proof of purchase, but this varies on a case-by-case basis. Picture by seanbjack

Am I entitled to exchange gifts or get a refund because I don't like them or I already have them?

In simple terms: no. And if you think about it, that's fair enough: why should the store owner bear the brunt of an inappropriate gift choice? In practice, most large retailers offer this service as a matter of course (check the queues at the service counter at any department or discount store on Boxing Day), and others will offer an exchange if you ask nicely and the goods are undamaged. Many, though, will only offer credit to spend in the store, rather than an outright cash refund. Since in this case they're not strictly obliged to do anything at all, that's not an unreasonable outcome.

Am I entitled to exchange gifts or get a refund if they don't work properly?

Yes. All goods sold in Australia -- whether through a physical store or online -- must be "fit for purpose". If they're not, you're entitled to seek a remedy. For minor faults, an exchange for a functioning item is a reasonable resolution; if the item is majorly defective, a refund is in order.

Can a store refuse to offer a refund on a faulty product?

No, it can't. Signs proclaiming "no refunds" for sale or seconds items don't have any practical effect on your rights. You couldn't demand a refund on something sold as a 'second' if it had minor wear, but if it can't perform its intended task, then you're entitled to ask for a replacement or (depending on the severity of the issue) a refund.

Can a store tell me that repairs and issues have to be taken up with the manufacturer?

Definitely not. Having sold you the goods, the store is obliged to help resolve any issues, regardless of their origin. That doesn't stop them trying: Apple, for instance, continues to suggest that non-Apple goods sold in its stores become the responsibility of the manufacturer. That's not true, and Apple placing it in its store policies does not in any way allow it to escape its obligations under Australian consumer law. To be clear, you can choose to go through the manufacturer if that suits you, but a store can't force you to do so.

Can a store refuse to repair an item because I didn't purchase a warranty?

No. Every item purchased in Australia has a "statutory guarantee" attached, and service options must be available for a "reasonable time" after sale. The definition of "reasonable time" varies by product category, but anything that's been purchased as a Christmas gift and fails to work immediately or shortly thereafter is certainly going to fall into that space. A warranty (whether paid for or included) can offer additional protection, but doesn't in any way wipe out your existing rights.

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