Sunday 25 August 2019

Your Money: Know your rights this sale season

As stores prepare for summer discounting, it is time to brush up on returns

Bargain time: Many shops are likely to start their summer sales early this year. Stock image
Bargain time: Many shops are likely to start their summer sales early this year. Stock image
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

Notwithstanding the little spurt of 'summer' that hit the country briefly during the week, 2019 has been a poor cousin of 2018, weather-wise.

However, there is an upside to a 'normal' Irish summer: many shops are cutting their losses and have begun their summer sales early, in a bid to clear out stock in time for autumn collections, which they may need sooner rather than later.

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When it comes to the sales, there can be a lot of misconceptions about what rights you have, especially if you've only paid a fraction of the price for an outfit, pair of shoes, a new gadget, or even a last-minute summer holiday.

The good news is that they are exactly the same as if you paid full price, and that's what I'm looking at this week.

Right of return

At any time of the year, for any purchase, if an item is damaged, not as described or unfit for purpose, you can bring it back for repair, replacement or refund. It's usually at the store's discretion which they offer first, but they can't turn you away.

The only exception is where it was sold clearly marked 'damaged', or 'as seen', sometimes retained on one shop rail or shop-soiled display models.

This means the buyer took the risk in return for a discount and can't complain later.

The bad news is that consumer rules relating to you simply changing your mind are also the same. That means you don't have a right to a refund or even a credit note if you bought the item perfect, and returned it perfect.

I get lots of queries over this as people genuinely believe they can return anything, but that's not so. Good shops can be their own worst enemy, as those who really want to offer a great customer experience, or have the scale to do so, offer returns anyway, so we believe it's an automatic right, which it is not. When it comes to sales:

- Shops cannot refuse to refund or exchange (signage during sales often says this). Your statutory rights (relating to damage) stand, no matter what.

- Refunds are given at the price you paid; if it later goes up in normal trading, tough.

- Proof of purchase, which is often demanded for returns, doesn't mean you have to provide the original receipt. Your bank statement, showing the date, amount and store, is also sufficient.

Online shopping

Thanks to strict EU laws on 'distance' trading, online shoppers enjoy stronger rights than those in physical stores.

You can return any item, for any reason, including change of mind, within 14 days for a full refund. Exceptions are perishable or personalised products, tickets or accommodation bookings.

Brexit

I've had some emails about UK shops refusing returns online because of Brexit.

While terrible things may be coming down the line for consumers, Britain hasn't left yet, and remains fully signed up to all legislation, so ignore any retailers in the UK who tell you otherwise.

If you have difficulty, contact eccireland.ie, which is the European Consumer Centre in Dawson Street, Dublin, which will liaise on your behalf for free.

Vouchers

Each summer, shoppers use the sales to spend birthday or Christmas presents they received, only to find the shop has closed, or won't take the voucher 'due to the sale'.

Legislation in this area remains unacted, despite promises to do so before the summer Dáil recess. When it does come in, it will simply place a minimum five-year expiry on vouchers. For now, shops can do what they like.

Irish Independent

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