Returning items during the lockdown period

Returning items during lockdown

It's a case of buyer beware when it comes to lockdown return policies, warns Wendy Knowler.

Grocery shopping
Grocery shopping/ iStock

Listen to the full audio here: 

A Durban-based chain of household hardware and accessories asked for Consumerwatch’s help with a returns policy dilemma:

"We have introduced a policy that does not allow for the exchange or credit of items during this initial phase of the lockdown. If it’s a straight refund that does not involve previously sold items coming back into the branch then we're happy to assist. However, where it involves the return of an item(s) back into the store, regardless of the reason - incorrect size, don’t want it anymore -  then we don’t allow that. Temporarily of course.

It’s purely a risk minimisation aspect due to the current pandemic.

Also read: Shopping for specific items in lockdown explained

"We certainly don’t want to be difficult, and definitely don’t aim to upset our customers, however, our motive is to safeguard our employees and customers alike as far as we possibly can.

“Our branch managers and employees are in favour of the “additional protection”, and the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of our customers understand and respect the policy, with some even complimenting our staff about it. However, a handful of customers are not so understanding. The most common threat is that of legal action and/or taking it up with the Ombudsman.

"There are prominent signs in-store warning of the current no-returns policy, and our cashiers are trained to advise as such as well. We can’t accept products back and then sanitise them because that chemical will damage the metal finish of our products. I’d appreciate your views.”

Also read: Clothing, fees, and selling and buying cars

Firstly, no retailer is legally obliged to take back non-defective purchases. Consumers only have the right to return defective products within six months of purchase, for their choice of a refund, replacement or repair.

But so many stores do take back “change of heart” purchases that most consumers assume it is their right.

In fact,  as long as a store allows customers to inspect goods before purchase, they are within their rights to refuse to take them back if there is nothing wrong with them. In other words, it’s the consumer’s responsibility to make sure they’re buying the right thing.

But I strongly discouraged that retailer from refusing to take back defective returns.

Also read: Lockdown - various levels of vagueness and confusion

Another example: Dean bought a thermometer from a store because he thought the one he already had was reading incorrectly. But when he got home, he realised that the new one had the same reading, meaning the old one was working just fine.

"Can I return it today?” he asked the store. "I have only had it open for about 10 minutes.” He had paid R1750 for it.

The store refused because the product had been opened and used, and therefore they couldn’t resell it. Dean was not happy.

My response to him: "Unfortunately, no retailer is legally obliged to take back any purchase unless it is defective.  Many will, as customer service, if the product is in a re-saleable condition, but yours was not. 

Also read: Pay now, enjoy later

Also, I’ve noticed that even the most consumer-friendly retailers are less inclined to take back non-defective purchases now, given the safety concerns around C-19.

"I’m so sorry about your unnecessary expense - perhaps you could gift that thermometer to a family member or friend?”

The 2020 Comrades Marathon is cancelled. 

But why are local entrants being given the run-around?

This year’s Comrades Marathon has been cancelled, and many locals who’d entered to it were less than impressed by the news that they have to be content with a goodie bag and a T-shirt for the race they didn’t run, while the foreign entrants are having their fees carried over to the 2021 or 2022 race.

Wendy Knowler had a long chat with Comrades Marathon Association chairperson Cheryl Winn this week.

“It was not a perfect solution but we felt it was the best a possible solution," she said.

She did concede though, that the CMA did not give runners enough information about its decision.

Refunds were ruled out as an option, Cheryl said. “We understand that this is a very tough time financially for many people, but if we had to refund all the entry fees, we’d have no money left to plan the 2021 race.

While the CMA was able to stop the production of the 2020 Comrades Marathon medals, the T-shirts and goodie bags had already been procured by the time this year’s race was called off.

Explaining the discrepancy between the “solutions” afforded to the 25 000 local and 2500 foreign entrants, she said given that foreigners’ entry fee was R3800 - more than 6x that of locals (R600) - “we did not feel we could offer them a T-shirt and a goodie bag, and besides that, there are logistical problems in getting those things to the foreigners”.

About next year:

What is the fee for locals likely to be next year?

Given the inevitable need for stringent hygiene practices and physical distancing in the staging of Comrades 2021, Cheryl Winn said, the entry fees would probably have to increase “substantially”. 

“We really want to be able to offer 2020 entrants a substantially reduced fee, but we can't promise that now, we need to protect both our runners and the sustainability of the race," she said.

READ: Clothing, fees, and selling and buying cars

Catch up with previous episodes here: 

Contact Wendy

Get in touch with Wendy via her website or her Facebook page. Please note that Wendy is not able to personally respond to every email she receives. If she is able to take up your case, she will contact you directly. Here are other avenues for you to consider.

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