Illegal ‘goods not returnable policy’ still fleecing consumers

- corrective measures cumbersome

Several local business houses, including some big traders, are stubbornly refusing to comply with national laws governing the right of consumers to secure refunds for goods purchased from their stores, a practice that continues to leave buyers saddled with items which or are defective and therefore useless.

In the course of the past two months, this newspaper has received at least half a dozen queries regarding the laws governing refunds for goods bought from local businesses in circumstances where efforts to secure such refunds directly from the stores have been rejected.

In one very recent case of which this newspaper is aware a Regent Street store bluntly refused to accept a customer’s request for a refund, despite the fact that the sides of a pair of shoes had come undone just minutes after the purchase had been made. This newspaper saw the receipt recording the place, date and cost of the purchased item.

The Consumer Affairs Act of 2011 compels suppliers to effect refunds for most goods returned within 7 days of purchase along with receipts and packaging. The customer is not obliged to give a specific reason why the item is being returned beyond the fact that it might not be required any longer. In turn, the supplier is authorized under to law to retain ten per cent of the cost of the item as a handling charge to cover, among other things, repackaging and returning the item into stock.

In the case of defective items, the law dictates that the supplier replace, repair or refund.

0f more than 25 consumers with whom this newspaper spoke only four were aware that the issue of restitution for returned goods was enshrined in the law. None of the four were aware of the specifics of the law.

Up until recently, several downtown stores had sought to protect themselves against customer demands for goods to be taken back or exchanged by hanging ‘goods not returnable’ signs on the front of their premises. While the signage appears to have been removed in the face of warnings by the Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission that such signs should not be displayed, many stores have persisted with the practice.

A consumer affairs watcher told Stabroek Business last week that the return and refund laws are “inconvenient to traders” since there may “lots of cases” in which goods have been in stock for a long time and are therefore “quite likely to be defective by the time they reach the consumer.”

Vendors, the source said, are entirely aware of this and are therefore against the idea of refunds.

Stabroek Business is aware of two instances in which downtown stores declined to provide warranties on generators worth in excess of $40,000 on the grounds that they had been in stock for some time and were probably likely to have defects.

While suppliers of goods transgressing the law are liable to be fined up to $1 million and can be jailed for a period of one year, it appears that the cumbersome nature of the corrective procedures which the consumer might have to endure is a deterrent to the effectiveness of the law.

Having had his or her request to the supplier in question for a request or a refund denied the consumer must take the case to the commission’s Sophia office and comply with a request to put the complaint in writing. Thereafter, the Sophia office makes a formal approach to the supplier with a request for a refund based on an investigation of the case. In cases – and this newspaper understands that those are frequent – where the supplier refuses to effect a refund, he or she is summoned to the Sophia office to discuss the matter in another attempt to secure an amicable settlement. The consumer affairs watcher told Stabroek Business that some of the matters are settled at that level but it is not unusual for some suppliers to show up with their attorneys in cases where refunds pertain to high-priced items. The source said that given the nature of the procedures associated with having the law enforced the vast majority of cases involving relatively inexpensive items do not ever reach the commission’s office.

Stabroek Business understands that those cases that are not solved by the commission’s office are referred to the commissioners for examination and decisions regarding legal action but the effectiveness of the process at that level is often stymied by bureaucratic sloth.

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