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.