The general misconception amongst many consumers is that the right to return goods (Section 20 of the Consumer Protection Act) applies regardless of the reason for the return. Therefore suppliers are often bullied into accepting returns even when there is no obligation on them to do so. It is quite clear from Section 20 of the CPA that this right does not apply where a consumer had a change of heart or buyer’s remorse. The background to this discussion involves a careful look at Section 20 of the CPA as the act is very specific about the circumstances under which a consumer is entitled to return goods.
When can a consumer return goods?
There are 4 instances where a consumer can return goods under Section 20 of the CPA, namely where the supplier has delivered:
- goods sold as a result of direct marketing and the consumer has exercised their cooling off period;
- goods where the consumer did not have an opportunity to examine the goods before delivery and has rejected delivery due to the goods not being of the type or quality reasonably expected and in the case of special ordered goods, where the goods fail to meet the material specifications of that order;
- a mixture of goods and the consumer has refused delivery of those goods because the supplier delivered some of the goods the supplier agreed to supply mixed with goods of a different description; or
- goods intended to satisfy a particular purpose communicated to the supplier and the supplier ordinarily supplies such goods or acts in a manner consistent with being knowledgeable about the use of the goods, and within 10 business days after delivery of those goods to the consumer, the goods have been found unsuitable for that particular purpose.
Does the CPA prohibit the return of any goods?
Section 20 of the CPA states that the right to return would not apply where the return of such goods is prohibited for reasons of public health or if any public regulations prohibit the return of those goods once they have been supplied to or the direction of the consumer, for example, a supplier would be able to prohibit the return of underwear due to reasons of public health. Furthermore, this right falls away from where the goods have been supplied to or at the direction of the consumer, have been partially or entirely dissembled, physically altered, permanently installed, affixed, attached, joined, blended, added or combined with, or embedded within other goods or property.
What are the suppliers’ rights?
The supplier would have to refund the consumer in full where the goods are returned unopened and in their original packaging. However, the supplier may impose a charge if the goods are used unless the usage was reasonable in order for the consumer to determine whether the goods were acceptable. The supplier can also charge the consumer any restoration costs in order to render the goods fit for restocking unless the consumer had to destroy the packaging in order to determine whether the goods conformed to the sample or description or were fit for the intended purpose.
After considering Section 20 of the CPA it is clear that suppliers need to familiarize themselves with the provisions relating to returns especially the circumstances under which they are obliged to accept returns and when they can impose a charge upon the return of such goods. While some suppliers to accept the return of goods, others don’t accept any returns after purchase. The latter should ensure that their returns policies are in accordance with the CPA. This is quite important in order for the supplier to avoid being bullied into accepting returns or even worse avoid complaints being lodged with the National Consumer Commision or any other forum allowed for under the CPA.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Remolla Naidoo obtained her B.Soc.Sci (Law), LLB and LLM (Business Law) degrees from the University of KwaZulu Natal. She is a SEESA Consumer Protection and POPI Legal Advisor and has more than 7 years hands-on experience in Consumer Protection and POPI.