Returning Goods To A Shop, The Law vs Common Beliefs...

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A Little Bit Of Background

I have just noticed a  guide (well, actually, the same guide published several times) entitled ' refunds' which contains the following words of 'wisdom'.

if you buy from oilily and change your mind when you get home.there is no way you would get a refund.

Why Write This Guide?

Because the author of that guide - eBay ID jsilk9298 - believes, quite erroneously, that she (possibly a he but I suspect she's a she) can go into any shop she likes, buy a whole lot of stuff, take it home, try it out and then, just because she changes her mind and decides she doesn't like it any more, take it back and demand a refund when the truth of the matter is She Can't!

She is not the only one, for some reason this is a commonly held belief and I often see people in shops who have changed their minds getting extremely angry and screaming at the top of their voices  " I know my rights" when it is so obvious they do not.

The Sale Of Goods Act

The Sale Of Goods Act lays down the law regarding the sale of goods in this country and it clearly states you are entitled to a refund if the goods you purchased fail to be;
  • of merchantable quality or
  • fit for the purpose described
and that's pretty much it. There is no provision for 'changing your mind'. In fact, I believe it specifically excludes that as a reason for returning goods.
Any refund for faulty goods should be for the full amount paid and in cash, cheque or as a refund onto your credit card depending on how the goods were originally purchased. You should never accept a credit note for faulty goods.

What Do These Things Mean?

Something is of merchantable quality if it is well made and complies with all the appropriate standards applicable for products of that type.
  • If you buy a clock and it loses five minutes a day then it is clearly not of merchantable quality and you are entitled to your money back.
  • If you buy a set of oven gloves and burn your hands getting the casserole out of the oven because the insulation is not thick enough they are clearly not of merchantable quality.
In other words if a product is not fit to be sold it is not of merchantable quality.

Something is fit for the purpose described if it is capable of carrying out the functions described in the manual, sales literature or specified by the sales person.
  • If you buy a large coffee mug from a shop which is described as a 'pint mug' and when you get it home you find it only holds three quarters of a pint it is not fit for the purpose described (ie: holding one full pint of coffee) and you are entitled to a full refund.
  • If you go into a van showroom and say to the sales person "Hi, I'm looking for a van I can drive through the wall of Barclay's Bank and smash down the doors of the strong room. It has to be strong enough to load up to the roof with bullion and then be able to drive off at speed. Will that one over there do it?" and he says "certainly sir, through the wall like a knife through butter, as much bullion as you can cram in it and still do 0 to 60 in under 20 seconds, no problem" so you hand over the money and drive the van away. However, when you hit the wall of the bank at 40mph the bonnet crumples, the engine block smashes back through the bulkhead trapping you in the cabin until the Fire Brigade comes to cut you out. When you wake up handcuffed to a Hospital bed you should immediately ask the nurse for a telephone, call the showroom and demand a full refund as the vehicle obviously wasn't fit for the purpose described.
In other words, if a product states it can do something it can't or the salesperson leads you to believe it can do something it can't it is not fit for the purpose described.

So, if you goods are not of merchantable quality or not fit for the purpose described you are entitled to a full refund and you should never accept a credit note.


None of the above applies to defects that were pointed out to you prior to purchase or that the average person would reasonably be expected to have noticed.
  • If the salesman says "it's a lovely wardrobe but there is a nasty scratch down the left side but it shouldn't be a problem if that side is against the wall" and you buy it then you cannot return it because of that scratch!
  • If you go into a shop, pick up a book which has the front cover torn off, pay for it and walk out of the shop you have no right to a refund because this was a fault which you would have reasonably been expected to notice.
The legal standard applied in cases like this is referred to as ' the man on the Clapham Omnibus' ie: if the man on the Clapham Omnibus (or an average bloke on the street) would have spotted it you should have spotted it.

Signs And the Law

It is actually illegal for shops to display signs that say things like ' All Sales Are Final', ' No Refunds Given', ' Sale Goods Cannot Be Returned' or ' Any Refund Will Be In The Form Of Shop Credit' because they attempt to deprive you of your rights under the Sale of Goods Act.

If the goods are actually faulty you are entitled to a refund. In cash if you paid cash or by cheque or refund to your credit card as appropriate.

Shop Policy

If you buy something from a shop but later decide you no longer want it because, for example, it clashes horribly with your daughter's new fluorescent pink and green mohican then the law is plain and simple. Tough, you're stuck with it! ie: if you try to return it to the shop they can quite legitimately say " I'm sorry Sir, there is nothing wrong with this item, you have no right to return it and I don'thave to give you your money back" and send you on your way. There is nothing you can do about it. In short you shouldn't have bought it in the first place. The ancient principle of ' Caveat Emptor' (Let The Buyer Beware) applies.

However, it may be the policy of any given shop, Marks & Spencers for example, to offer refunds even when there is no fault with the item being returned. This is over and above what the law specifies and it is their decision. Other shops may give refunds at the manager's discretion and this is usually to get an awkward customer out of the shop as quickly as possible. Just remember, no shop has to do that and if they do you are getting a bloody good deal.

Similary if there is nothing wrong with the goods and you are offered a credit note you should take it because, once again, you are getting a lot more than you are entitled to. Smile sweetly, say thank you and walk away thinking about what you are going to buy...

In Conclusion

  • When you buy something it is a legally binding contract between you and the shop.
  • You have no right to return goods to a shop unless they are faulty or not as described.
  • If you are entitled to a refund do not accept a credit note ever.
  • If you are not entitled to a refund and are offered a credit note accept it gracefully.
Remember, no shop has to serve you and if you make a scene the owner has a right to ask you to leave the premises. If you refuse to leave or threaten a member of staff you can be charged with burglary which carries, on conviction a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

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