As a business owner in the Consumer Goods Retail Industry you are often confronted with the situation of a customer returning a product that was sold, either for a refund or for a replacement item where the initial product was defective.
The question is however if you as a business owner can refuse to accept a returned product if a consumer is not able to provide proof of purchase in the form of a till slip or a tax invoice. Unfortunately, as it is the case in the Consumer Protection Law there is not a simple answer. There is however certain recommendations from the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO) on this issue. The CGSO received numerous complaints from aggrieved consumers who were refused a return or refund merely because the consumer was unable to provide a proof of purchase. For example, they received the item as a gift from another source or they simply lost the till slip.
Section 55 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) provides consumers with the right to safe and good-quality goods.
This section of the CPA lists the requirements goods should comply with, namely:
- They are reasonably suitable for the purposes for which they are generally intended.
- They are of good quality, in good working order and free of any defects;.
- They will be useable and durable for a reasonable period of time.
- They comply with the Standards Act.
Section 56 of the CPA imposes a statutory warranty that all goods sold, comply with the requirements listed in Section 55.
The problem is that Section 56 of the CPA provides no specific reference to till slips and if it is a prerequisite to return goods. The CGSO feels that each case should be considered and dealt with on its own merits.
The CGSO will take the following into consideration when deciding on a matter:
- Is the item available at other retailers? Is it a product widely available at a competitor’s outlet – or is it one exclusively sold by that supplier?
- The supplier also has a duty to keep records of sales transactions (this is obviously easier with Debit or Credit Card transactions). If it is not a cash sale then the business will most likely be able to confirm the date of sale.
- Consideration must be given to the High Level of Crime in South Africa.
- The fact that the CPA only gives a 6 month warranty and therefore the reason for requesting proof of purchase to determine date of sale/delivery.
- The general principles of reasonableness and fairness to both parties.
- Does the condition of the item suggest a recent purchase date.
- Is it the type of item that someone is likely to have shoplifted and damaged to get the cash value of a refund for?
- Have there been other similar returns of the item?
In conclusion, the business owner has an obligation to keep sales records, which can be used to address to consumer’s right to return goods.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charl Fourie has been a SEESA Consumer Protection & POPI Legal Advisor since 2008. Prior to employment at SEESA he practiced as a Civil and Criminal Attorney for 4 years.