Those little notices saying, ‘If you break this, consider it sold’, or the ‘seven-day return policy’ of which you are so kindly informed, when you return the toy that broke on day one, have no legal basis.

That’s according to PJ Veldhuizen of Gillan and Veldhuizen Incorporated, a Cape Town-based attorney firm which specialises in litigation.

The Consumer Protection Act was introduced (and amended in 2015) to protect the right of the consumer

However, although many of us are aware of the CPA, not many shoppers are familiar with the rights the Act provides them in terms of defective goods and return policies.

According to Veldhuizen, Section 56 of the Consumer Protection Act deals with what is known as an “Implied warranty of quality”, which essentially provides that, within six months after the delivery of any goods to a consumer, the goods may be returned to the supplier, without penalty.

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Section 56(2) goes on to say that this is at the supplier’s risk and expense if the goods fail to satisfy the requirements and standards set out in section 55 of the act (more about that later), and the supplier must, no matter what the shop’s policy is, repair, replace or refund the returned goods.

Simply put, you as a South African consumer are entitled to return any defective goods (that could be a toy, a pair of shoes, etc.) within six months of purchase and, more importantly, you can elect whether you would like the item replaced, repaired or refunded

“Many retailers attempt to dictate their return policy to consumers, often not allowing returns after a certain period, or only offering a voucher in return; this is totally against and in breach of the CPA.”
As mentioned, goods sold must comply with Section 55 of the Act which stipulates that every consumer has the right to receive goods that are safe and of good quality. The Act specifies that the goods must be:

  • Suitable for the purpose for which they are intended
  • Of good quality, in good working order and free of defects
  • Durable and usable for a reasonable period of time.

Consumers have the right to refer the breach to the Consumer Commission, which, if the commission finds the supplier of the goods accountable, will issue a Compliance Notice to the guilty party. ”This can have far-reaching effects, as the CPA can issue a fine of up to 10% of turnover or R1 million (whichever is smaller). Clearly, this can have a big impact on a business should the consumer take them to task.”

Retailers need to educate their staff on the rights of the consumer, the effects of a disgruntled consumer and what damage that can do to your brand

“If boardrooms and head offices don’t realise that the consumer has legal rights way beyond their engineered policies and if they are not fully au fait with the legislation, they are placing themselves at huge risk,” says Veldhuizen.

Complaints can be lodged with The Consumer Council //www.thencc.gov.za/content/lodging-complaint