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Shop staff quoted nonsense rights at me – isn’t it time they were taught the law?

Shop staff quoted nonsense rights at me – isn't it time they were taught the law?

Shop staff quoted nonsense rights at me – isn't it time they were taught the law?

Free consumer rights wallet guide – to ensure you always know your rights – print this.

It pays to know your consumer rights – a member of staff at a high street store tried to tell me a load of baloney this weekend. I politely quoted back the "Sale of Goods Act 1979" and she went quiet. Yet, isn’t it time retailers properly train their staff in the law?

This occurred while I was in a major clothes chain store (which I’m keeping anonymous as I don’t want to pick on the individual) buying a new jacket in the sales for work. There was only one left in my size and eagle-eyed Mrs MSE spotted a button was loose and likely to come off.

We pointed this out to the woman serving us (who I assume was either a manager or supervisor as she was dressed differently to the other staff) and she offered us a rather paltry discount (3%) and then said:

But, if you agree to the discount and then anything else goes wrong with the jacket, you won’t be able to bring it back."

I mentioned that this wasn’t correct and she told me that it was store policy, so I politely replied:

I’m afraid that’s not correct, I have legal rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and that means if goods are faulty then I can return them."

She went rather quiet at that point – quoting the year of an Act does always indicate you know what you’re doing (do print out our free Consumer Rights wallet guide which has everything you need if something similar ever happens to you).

But I found it slightly frustrating, this was a professional member of a retail team, surely she should’ve been fully conversant with what isn’t even the most complex of laws? In the end she offered to get the jacket repaired instead.

What the law actually says

When you buy goods, they must follow what I call the SAD FART laws, that means items must be of:

Satisfactory quality, As Described, Fit for purpose, And last a Reasonable length of Time.

In this case, as a rough summary, if I’d bought the jacket with a faulty button, then that would have affected the ‘as described’ element. In other words this was a new jacket, with a faulty button.

So, I couldn’t the jacket return due to the button fault however, had anything else gone wrong with it, then it wouldn’t be satisfactory and I would’ve retained my rights.

I don’t think the lady was trying to deceive me, I simply think she didn’t know and was confused by the difference between faulty goods and returned goods (for full info on this see the main Consumer Rights guide).

This all stems back to those signs many people see, but few consumers or store staff actually knows what the sign means:

This doesn’t’ affect your statutory rights."

This is common with stores that have returns policies, eg, it may say: ‘you must return goods in 14 days and we’ll give you a refund, but you need a receipt’.

And all those rules are enforceable as you have NO RIGHTS to take goods back if they aren’t faulty (even if they’re the wrong size). So, any returns policy is an added bonus and shops can add whatever clauses they like.

Yet, if goods are faulty (ie, they break the SAD FART rules) then forget the store policy as you have statutory (ie, legal) rights, which supersede this, so the returns policy is now irrelevant.

For example, if a store requires you to have a receipt for a return that isn’t faulty, then the law says that you only need "proof of purchase" and therefore a credit card statement would be acceptable.

Shop staff should be taught this

Sadly we live in a world where many people get rude and occasionally even abusive or violent towards to shop staff. That’s absolutely out of order.

Yet as part of that, surely shops have a responsibility to ensure ALL their staff actually know the law and how retail rights truly work – it would diffuse many situations (however, even staff being ignorant of the law is no excuse for customers to behave abusively).

I hear all the time of people taking faulty goods back and being told: ‘send it to the manufacturer’, or other such nonsense.

I’m tempted to argue that all large chains should be obliged to give all staff lessons in retail law and that they need to pass a small test to show that they understand it. My only minor concern is that this would discourage new employment and could be a barrier to entry.

  • Karen Julia

    When I worked in the retail sector (for more than a decade) staff were trained on the basics of retail law and consumer rights. This wasn’t seen as a barrier to new employment at all, in fact, it was seen as a bonus as it avoided misunderstanding and subsequently unhappy customers. If a handful of companies can do it, they all can – there’s really no excuse!

  • Caroline

    i work for a major high street retailer,and we are taught the consumer rights laws but customers also need educating about it too as often we have to deal with abbusive customers who are incorrect in what they quote and think we are wrong,especially regarding manufacturer guarentees and repair procedures,plus the whole 6 year EU law confuses customers who think they are legal entitled to a new product-which is not always the case.

  • Anonymous

    I used to run my own business, so checked out the Sale of Goods Act and also got any necessary information from my local Trading Standards office.  My biggest problem was with customers returning goods after changing their minds, and they believed they had every right to do so because the major retailers all offered unconditional exchange and return policies.  In my case my stock levels were low, I may have turned away another customer wanting the same item in the same size (although it had been sold), and then got stuck with the returned item when it was brought back as unsuitable and a refund demanded.  If I tried to stick to my guns they would often get nasty and threaten to tell all their friends.

  • Kelly Cozens

    i recently bought some bits for my home and ok they were only from the pound shop but still when i got home the mop fell apart the saucepan handle was loose and it cannot be tightened and i went back to the shop where they asked me did i have the receipt i told them no i didnt as i dont keep every receipt i would have drawers full of them otherwise and they said nothing they can do without a receipt its there store policy but the items were faulty so surely i still had grounds if that was the case 

  • Steve Lorek

    I agree. However the stores have a vested interested in not accepting returns back, so as long as consumers believe what they are told they will get away with it. For some, customer service does not supersede bottom line margins on a small percentage of sales.

    Many large retail chains in fact have written policies or internal memos to discourage staff from accepting returns and to pass them on to the manufacturer if at all possible. Only a couple of weeks ago I saw Halfords posting such an internal memo in the front window in relation to a product recall – it clearly instructed staff to direct customers to the manufacturer and only accept the return themselves if the customer insisted.

  • Leon Thrift

    you do have a right to return the, but you do need some proof of purchase 

  • Sian Fairney

    I have to agree with Caroline. Having worked in a shop before I found customers could get very rude and even abusive, especially when you pointed out that what they were quoting wasn’t even included in the sale of goods act. There was a few times when I pulled it up on the internet to show it to them. Customers should be educated too.

  • Martin S Lewis

    Hi Kelly.

    The key here, as I say in the blog is you MUST have ‘proof of purchase’ that doesn’t need be a receipt, it could be a credit card statement, bank statement, or in some circumstances even a picture of you paying for the item (ie anything a court would accept as decent evidence) unfortunately without this then no they don’t have to accept faulty goods.

  • Anonymous

    I work in retail.  Retailers are finding it very hard to make a profit and although my employer pays above average wage, most cannot afford a big investment in staff and training – our training as assistants is only on the job, no retail law training.   I suppose that the managers and seniors are trained in retail rights and the law although I do not know what training they receive.  However my company are all about quality and customer satisfaction.  We do not sell faulty goods, we don’t offer a discount – the item is not offered for sale and if we see any missing buttons or other faults the item is returned to head office for repair or sold only to the staff (at a discount).  Customers are offered a no-quibble return policy, yes Middlesex Mother, even for a change of mind.  Even (especially!) a small business needs to recognise the importance of customer satisfaction and the power of customer repeat business and recommendation.

  • Kevin Symonds

    And the thing with pound shops is that you often pay in cash so have no evidence. But then a saucepan for a pound?

  • Kevin Symonds

    And if people don’t want to do an extra course to do their job properly then I’m sure theres other people that would be more than happy to take that job.

  • Roger ***

    If they cannot pas a simple test on basic consumer law, then they are not fit for the purpose themselves!

  • George Forth

    Saying “We do not sell faulty goods” is asking for trouble. No matter how good your quality control is, something will slip through the manufacturing process at some point and that is what the Sale Of Goods Act is there for. If someone is deliberately selling faulty goods then it’s a matter for Trading Standards, but the type of shop that explicitly states they never sell faulty goods is usually the type of shop that tries to get out of their legal responsibilities by saying that the item can’t have been faulty because they check everything.

  • George Forth

    A fair enough sentiment, but there is of course no legal responsibility for customers to be educated, however, and dealing with dreadful, stupid, possibly rude or maybe just misinformed customers is something that you have to take on the chin if you want to work in retail (but never abusive customers – nobody has to deal with abuse). 

  • George Forth

    Maybe alongside the notice stating that “Your statutory right are not affected” there ought to be a sign that states what your statutory rights actually are under the SoG Act?

  • Anonymous

    You misunderstand me, of course some faulty items will rarely slip through, or items fade etc, the shop I work for simply offers refund or exchange for items WHATEVER the reason, whether a fault or just because the customer is dissatisfied or changed their minds, because it prides itself in customer service.  What I mean is, if we find anything faulty, or a customer points out a fault at time of purchase and asks for a discount, we won’t sell them the item at a discount and will offer a non faulty item instead, and take the faulty item off sale.

  • pmduk69

    Whilst consumers remain so price-conscious surely it is unlikely retailers will spend any additional money on an area which will only reduce their profits.

  • Alan Clark

    I studied Hotel Management at college and a huge part of that was consumer law, from the sale of goods act to licensing laws. We were even taught case studies where hotels/shops etc had signs displayed saying it’s not their problem when in fact it was. Retailers should train their staff too.

  • Sandra Mcneil

    hi a credit card statement only tells you the amount spent it doesn@twitter-143214201:disqus  give you an itemised list which a till receipt does and in most retailers there is always special offers etc and if they price has went down and they are saying they paid more thats what causes problems.

  • Rugby Scottie

    I work for trading standards and agree that both consumers AND retailers should be educated in the basics of the law.  There is an excellent guide to the SoG Act on the OFT website called the Sale of Goods Act Hub – have a look and spread the word. (A google search should help you find it.)  The Trading Standards Institute also offers basic training on aspects for consumer law – called the Fair Trading Award, again a Google search will help you find this, but employees should encourage their employers to get involved.

  • Jack Howson

    That’s an interesting point – I work in a chain of department stores and I’ve always been told that if we’re selling an item with a fault we’ve noticed, we’ll give a discount of around 10%, but the item won’t be returnable. I need to make sure the customers know they can return, just not claiming on the original fault.

  • Anonymous

    i had cause to return a faulty digital camera to argos and a credit card statment as proof of purchase was not excepatable by argos as proof of purchase  luckely we did have the recipt after a few days we went back and the camera was repaired

  • Anonymous

    Hi Kelly,

    Pop back into the pound shop, purchase the same items again, then two minutes later return the original faulty items with the new receipt… Refund please!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Kelly,

    Just pop back to the pound shop, purchase the same items again, then go outside, get the original faulty items hubby has bought with him and take them straight back in for a refund… Simples!


    A good idea for those who are curious. However, I believe that the majority of people would either not spare the time to bother reading it, or would not understand it if they did.


    Whilst you were perfectly within your rights to refuse the return of goods for that reason, middlesexmother, a customer still has their right to be unhappy with your policy and to tell anyone they wish about it. I’m not saying that you should allow returns due to a change of mind, only that you have to be prepared for some unhappy customers if you don’t.


    If you had not found the receipt, all would not have been lost. Even though Argos initially refused to accept your credit card statement as proof of purchase, if you had threatened to take the matter up with the courts, they would probably have backed down. If not, the law may still have ruled in your favour and then Argos would have had to comply. 

  • Anonymous

    Martin i used to work for a major retail chain,and i was well aware of the sales of goods act etc,(as are the majority of the staff) however -it was not in the company’s  best interest  to quote the SOGA1979 as it would lead to  lost turnover refunds etc the staff were under great pressure to retain sales and prevent refunds etc!
    I no longer work in that environment,just to let you know it is not always the staff who are ignorant,they are asked by the retailer to quote the company policy instead !


    A pity that you haven’t stated which chain you work for as I for one, would give your stores a wide berth if I knew that you were discounting items due to them being faulty. I’m always interested in a discount, but I’m certainly not going to buy anything from a store that sells faulty products.

  • molly

    Thanks Martin: a good blog on a topic that really should be disseminated as widely as possible to both consumers and retail staff.  One point though: are you making a claim to ownership of the SAD FART acronym?  I was taught this a long time ago in a consumer law module at Plymouth University.

  • Anonymous

    Hi, I bought a phone from Carphone Warehouse, it stopped working after 7 months. They sent it to their repair centre and I was told that it is an internal fault with the main circuit board and is beyond repair, they told me that  the manufacturer does not cover this type of fault as it is classed as physical damage.
    I argued how can it be physical damage as it is internal and the outside of the phone is perfect, and I have no control over the internal components.
    Anyway after several e-mails and telephone calls I have hit a brick wall as there is no-one to refer this to other than the repair department they deal with all the complaints!
    I personally rang the manufacturer( Nokia) who were astounded that I was being treated like this, and they offered to inspect the phone. I sent the phone to them and they have confirmed that the fault is not due to physical damage and should have been repaired or replaced by Carphone Warehouse.
    I e-mailed Carphone Warehouse to inform them of the outcome of Nokias inverstigation and received a reply saying that the case is now closed and they still insist that the phone is not covered by the warrenty.

    So even though I have consumer rights it means nothing as far as Carphone Warehouse are concerned because they can do what they want as the repairs team who inspect the phone deal with their own complaints and they tell me there is no-one else higher to complain to.

    Any comments would be really appreciated.

    Thank you
    P.S. I love your website!


    I’ve returned faulty items to high street stores many times and it always amazes me when I witness other customers actually ask if they can return an item that they have brought back with them when they already know that they can. They must think that it is polite to ask but all they are doing is giving the store the impression that they are unsure of their rights and the chance to be manipulated. 

  • Anonymous

    Surely, the best thing would be for a new law to be introduced which required ALL retailers to display the 1979 act near the checkout so staff and customers can see. this would negate the need for extra training.

  • Anonymous

    Surely, it would be best if a new law was introduced requiring ALL retailers to display a copy of the 1979 act near the checkout for staff and customers to see. this would negate the need for retraining.

  • Martin S Lewis

    I find that staggering.  I very much did make this up around seven years ago (maybe 6-8) in a BBC car on the way to Radio 2 to talk about it and have used it ever since.

    When was your course at Plymouth – as I would be shocked if someone had independently come up with the same acronym as it had to be gemmied in.  I suspect your course was after I’d published it (and have been doing so ever since) – even so its nice to know its being used.

  • Anonymous

    Really? You would stop shopping somewhere that discounts, for example, clothes with make-up marks, missing buttons, dropped hems, etc, even if the fault were clearly labelled? I bought a pair of trousers at 50% discount last weekend because there were two (not particularly attractive) buttons missing; I’ll replace them for probably less than a pound, and five minutes of my time. There’s a big difference between ‘faulty’ (not fit for purpose), and ‘having a fault’ (not perfect). 

  • Ash Good

    I once had a member of staff at the Apple Store in Glasgow tell me that they didn’t have to abide by UK law because they were American company. I almost passed out from laughing. And then I got hold of their manager and went over the SoGA with him and ended up getting £750 worth of repairs for free. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been confronted now on 3 occasions by a large chain store who informs you on purchase of goods (elctrical) to retail the packaging (Box etc) other wise they are unable to accpet the goods back even if faulty.  This must be baloney as well!!!  Although sadly my loft is full of empty boxes.

  • Alan Clark

    Say you will go and speak to trading standards if they don’t offer you a refund, I wouldn’t even bother with the exchange or credit note I would stick to my guns and demand the refund.

  • Anonymous

    bought a chest freezer in december and noticed after a while that the lid wasnt closing all the way.contacted comets who sent out an engineer  and he changed the lid but it still wasnt right.then they sent out another engineer and he changed the brackets but its still not ok.contacted comets who said the engineer said in his opinion it was ok even though our freezer doesnt close properly and has started frosting on the outside.comets have said that if we want another engineer out we have to pay £58 even though its under warranty. where do we stand on this issue it seems to me that comet feel that because it was a inexpensive product that customer service [or even good manners by their call center operators] is not applicable.

  • Gary Sleith

    I’d a recent problem with PC World. Bought a new laptop only to have the hard drive fail after 32 days. Initially I would have accepted a replacement but I was told I would have to accept a repair! I refused to accept this and quoted the sale of goods act. The member of staff told me he couldn’t authorize a replacement or refund. I asked for the manager who was on ‘his lunch’. I insisted on waiting. He give me the same story and that he couldn’t authorize it either. Sent him off to phone the area manager while continuing to tell everyone who would listen the facts of my case. Manager came back and told me he couldn’t reach his boss but he had ‘reconsidered’ my case and would issue a refund. So got sorted but it took over an hour.

  • Jasmine Lowther

    I have this all the time in my job, customers (8 out of 10) will ask me as soon as they come up to the counter ‘Hi, could i return this?’ sometimes i do feel like saying no just to see what they would say! They should know that as soon as a shop assistant sees that dreaded crinkled up bag that we know its a return so don’t worry just hand it over and tell us the problem. When I go into shops as a consumer I feel quite bad now for returning things, when i know the assistant is probably like ‘oh heres another one!’.