I was recently asked by a shopping centre’s management to give a presentation on the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) to its tenants, who were apparently confused by some of this new legislation, and how it applied to them.
So I asked for a list of questions to help me prepare.
Of the 84 questions I received, 50 were around the CPA’s controversial Section 56 – the consumer’s right to return defective goods within six months of purchase for their choice of refund, repair or replacement – which didn’t surprise me.
What did surprise me, almost three months into the CPA era, was the pretty widespread lack of understanding about some of the act’s most important provisions, pertaining to situations they must encounter with their customers almost daily.
In the hope that other similarly confused shopkeepers and consumers will benefit, here are a few of their questions and my answers:
Q: What is the policy on underwear returns?
A: The same as for any other goods. If there is nothing wrong with the underwear – the customer says they’re the wrong cut or fit, perhaps – the supplier is not obliged to take them back at all. But if they prove to be defective in some way, the supplier must take them back and either refund the customer, replace the defective underwear or repair it – the key thing is the customer gets to decide.
Q: What about clothing exchanges with no original docket? If the item is marked down, do we give the original price to the customer or do we give the marked-down price?
A: Again, this depends on whether the item is defective or not. If not, the store is not obliged to take back the item – if they choose to, they get to decide on the terms, which may include issuing a credit voucher to the marked-down value.
If the item is defective, however, the customer must provide some form of proof of purchase and, if they choose a refund, in terms of the CPA, the amount refunded must be the amount paid, regardless of whether the remaining stock has since been marked down or not.
Q: If a wrist watch is sold with its guarantee and is defective, are we obliged to refund the client?
A: Many shopkeepers are still clinging to the terms of the warranties offered by their suppliers and those terms seldom, if ever, include refunding someone who returns a defective item. Repair is the supplier’s favoured option, because it costs them the least. But the CPA gives the consumer the right to return defective goods for their choice of refund, repair or replacement within six months of purchase. After that, the supplier can dictate the terms of any return.
Q: Are we obliged to do a refund on a sale item?
A: If it’s defective – and it wasn’t sold as a defective item – and the customer asks for a refund, yes. Consumers are entitled to expect sale goods to be fit for purpose for six months. Q: If the consumer does not want the item and requests a cash refund, and we clearly state that it’s not store policy to allow cash refunds, what actions would be taken according to the CPA?
A: Again, it depends why the customer “does not want” the item. If it’s a change of heart and there’s nothing wrong with it, the store can refuse to take it back at all.
If they choose to take it back, they can indeed offer a voucher or replacement item instead of a refund.
But if it’s defective, and the customer returns it within six months and insists on a refund, a refund it must be. Bottom line: blanket “no cash refunds” policies are now illegal.
Q: (From an electronics store) How many times a month are we allowed to contact a customer for sales?
A: Targeting consumers directly – via SMS, phone call or e-mail, flyers or brochures in post boxes or face to face, with a marketing pitch is called direct marketing and the CPA offers consumers a lot of protection against such unwanted approaches.
The National Consumer Commission is in the process of appointing an entity to run a national registry which, if you register your details on it, will block all direct marketers in the country from contacting you, within 30 days of your registration.
Commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala said she was planning to have the registry in place this month.
Meanwhile, in contacting consumers in this way, companies first gain their permission.
Consumers no longer have to put up with direct sales pitches any more.