Consumer Protection Act - returning goods
A protected species
The regulatory framework created by the Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”) has effectively turned the South African consumer into a protected species. The CPA brings South Africa in line with the consumer centric legislation guiding, amongst others, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In conjunction with the National Credit Act, the CPA provides the South African Consumer with arguably one of the most robust set of consumer laws and essentially compels most businesses to provide excellent service. This begs the question, does the South African consumer see the excellent service we are promised? Probably not.
In my last two personal interactions with a chain hardware store I got the distinct impression they were striving to provide service akin to a South African arm of government. This led me to critically considering the state of South African business and its willingness to comply with the CPA. It seems many are coming along kicking and screaming.
Returning Goods - as pleasant as the dentist
Clearly, the CPA is far reaching. For purposes of this article I will narrow my focus to a Consumer's right to return goods. This can be done in a number of circumstances, such as:
1. A statutory cooling off period after the purchase of goods from direct marketing
Section 16 of the CPA provides that any goods purchased as a result of can be returned within 5 days of receiving the goods. The cost and risk of return is borne by the Consumer. Interestingly, the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (“ECTA”) has a similar section regulating this situation in the "on line" word - ECTA affords the consumer 7 days as opposed to the 5 provided for in the CPA.
2. Goods purchased that were not examined before delivery
Section 20, read with section 19 of the CPA allows a Consumer to reject delivery of the goods if they, in summary, do not meet the quality or type one would reasonably expect. The Consumer may then return the goods and receive a full refund.
3. Goods not fit for purpose
Broadly, if a Supplier advises a Consumer that certain goods are fit or a specific purpose and it turns out they are unsuitable the Consumer may return for a full refund.
4. Implied warranty
In a nutshell, all goods must be reasonably suitable for the purposes for which they are generally intended, must be of good quality, in good working order and free of any defects. If goods do not meet these essential standards they may be returned for a full refund.
I have probably over simplified the rather verbose legislation dealing with returning goods, but practically, you may probably return your goods for a full refund if they fall within the broad spectrum of one of the four categories above. There are a few exemptions and one or two nuances but the long and the short of it is that if you buy something that is damaged, incomplete or is not fit for its intended use, you may return the goods for a refund.
Cash or credit? Typically, a retailer will choose to offer you a store credit so you spend your cash there all over again. You may, however, elect to receive a cash refund in certain circumstances.
The real world
By way of practical explanation let us look at an example of the typical South African retailer. Goods are purchased - in this instance a R900 drill. The drill is missing one of its critical components. The drill can be returned, as a first port of call, in terms of the implied warranty. That seems simple enough. Unfortunately, it is usually not quite as simple as that.
In my last two experiences I have been treated like a liability rather than an asset. Made to feel like an insidious criminal rather than a welcome guest. That may be a slight dramatization, but the point is that South African Suppliers appear unwilling, in some cases, to conduct themselves in a manner befitting the spirit and purpose of the CPA.
Consumer centric legislation is bound to increase Supplier cost and force fair and honest terms, policies and procedures. Ultimately, the Consumer will bear this cost. Consequently, we, as Consumers, should always demand fair and accessible dealings with Suppliers.
The CPA provides us with a bill of consumer rights. As a progressive society, who will bear the cost of consumer centric legislation, inefficiency and arrogance should not be tolerated by the South African Consumer - particularly in light of our consumer bill of rights!
The onus is on business owners, particularly the large chain store groups, to shift their employees' philosophy to Consumers. I realize the generalizations I have used are sweeping, but the prevalent conduct in my last two experiences of returning goods has left a lot to be desired. This should not be the case and is indicative of South Africa's want for accepting mediocrity.