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Consumer Law

Christmas is a time for giving and a time for receiving.  It is also a busy time for returning unwanted and faulty gifts.  So what are your consumer rights when it comes to returning gifts?

A shop is under no obligation to return or refund a gift that is simply unwanted or disliked.  But if the shop assistant told you that you could return the gift, or if the shop has a policy that states that they will accept returns or refunds for a change of mind, then the shop must honour it.  You should check the shop’s returns policy before you purchase the gift – there may be conditions such as the gift being in the same condition as when it was sold to you (ie. unopened packaging) or the requirement to show proof of purchase (ie. a receipt).

The Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 (“the Consumer Guarantees Act”) sets out consumer rights when goods are faulty. The Consumer Guarantees Act covers nearly everything that can be found in and around the home, so will likely apply to any gift you buy.  Either you or the recipient of the gift can choose to seek redress either from the shop or the manufacturer for any faults in the gift, but it is likely to be easier to simply take the gift back to the shop from where it was purchased.

If the fault is minor the shop gets to choose whether they will repair the fault, replace the goods or give a refund.  However, if the shop refuses to do anything or they take a long time to do something, you may choose to either get a refund, get the goods replaced or take the goods somewhere else to be fixed and claim the cost of the repair from the shop that sold it to you.  If you are entitled to a refund, then it must be in cash.  The shop can ask for proof of purchase.

Where items are brought online via a New Zealand website, the same consumer protection applies as if the item was brought from a shop.

If you purchase a gift from an overseas website that is faulty then it may be very difficult to resolve your complaint, so shop with caution.  Do your research before buying from an overseas website and ensure the online payment is secure (look for the lock icon).

You do not have the same protection for unwanted or faulty gifts that are purchased through an online auction site such as Trademe.  The Consumer Guarantees Act does not apply to online auctions.  If the Trademe seller is operating in trade (ie. not a private seller) then the Fair Trading Act 1986 will apply and the seller cannot make false or misleading statements .  Where the Trademe auction is conducted by a private seller, the only protection for the purchaser is through the Contractual Remedies Act 1979 and you may have to revert to the Disputes Tribunal to resolve the matter.

Vouchers are a very popular gift at Christmas time.  Here are some points to remember about vouchers:

  • Vouchers represent goods to the value of the voucher.  You can pay extra to purchase goods that exceed the value of the voucher, but a retailer is not obliged to give you change if you purchase something of less value than the voucher.
  • If you lose your voucher, the retailer is not obliged to issue you with a new one.
  • Some vouchers have expiry dates.
  • If the retailer goes bust, then voucher is probably worthless.