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LISTEN: If the shoe doesn’t fit, do you have the right of return?

Wendy Knowler receives a lot of complaints about shoe purchases gone wrong, highlighting a worrying lack of knowledge of how the Consumer Protection Act applies, on both sides.

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It can be a little tricky, admittedly. 

The CPA automatically gives all products sold a six-month warranty - if what you've bought breaks or malfunctions in some way in that time, you get to return it for your choice of a refund, replacement or repair.

But the store may send the shoes for technical assessment in order to confirm that it’s a manufacturing defect or quality issue, rather than a problem caused by the consumer. If a boy is using his takkies as a form of braking on his bike, for example, the shoes’ deterioration can’t be called a defect.

What I often hear from consumers is that the shoes they’ve bought are uncomfortable, and they insist that they are entitled to a refund as a result.

The thing is, shoes being uncomfortable doesn't necessarily mean they are defective - it could be you chose the wrong size, or the wrong fit - if you have a particularly wide foot and you buy a narrow pointy-toed shoe that hurts you or gives you blisters, that doesn’t make the shoes defective, any more than a pair of too-tight jeans are defective. They are just not a good fit for you.


When is a return warranted?


So it’s important to know the difference between not fit for purpose, and not a good fit for you.

The former is covered by the CPA warranty and the latter is not.

I once investigated a case where the complaintant was absolutely adamant that one shoe of a pair she’d bought was uncomfortable because it was made wrong, so I asked a podiatrist to do an assessment, which verfied her claim and she got her money back.  But those cases are rare.

So the advice is - when you buy shoes, make sure they fit you properly before you buy them - spend a bit of time walking up and down in the store and try on different sizes, because legally you aren’t entitled to a refund if you later realise they hurt you. You have no right of return at all, in fact.

The best you can hope for is an offer to replace them or give you a credit note. And only if you still have your receipt.

That’s what Bianca Welman discovered. She bought a R350 pair of pumps in November.

Although she’d tried them on in the store, when she got home they felt uncomfortable, but when she tried to return them, she was told “those shoes were on sale, so no refunds.”

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She was given a credit voucher, but every time she has returned to the store since, she’s noticed two things - no new stock and all existing stock is marked as 20% off. In other words, everything was said to be discounted.

She asked Consumerwatch: “At what point can you demand your money back? Could my store credit ever 'fall away' legally?”

If the shoes aren’t defective, you can’t make any demands at all, let alone for a refund. Could the store credit fall away? Well, since it was issued as a favour rather than a legal requirement, yes, the store can impose a time limit on it.

As for the ‘on sale’ issue, that’s totally meaningless when it comes to returns. 

If the shoes develop defects - the sole comes away, for example, or the stitching unravels - within six months, they are covered by the CPA warranty and you get to choose between a refund, replacement or repair, whether you bought them on sale or not. That’s irrelevant if there’s a defect.

And if they aren’t defective, you have no right of return whether you bought them on sale or not.

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The other common scenario I get is the flip side - a shoe is indeed defective in some way, but the store owner refuses to issue a refund.

I took up a case recently a pair of bridemaid’s shoes which were mis-matched - one had some missing diamantes and the one heel had less shimmer on it than the other one.

The store owner offered a credit note, but not a refund, the bride’s father told me, and that’s what they wanted so they could shop for shoes elsewhere.

When I took up the case, the owner denied refusing a refund and said he was waiting for the shoes to be returned to the store. 

That was then done, and so was the refund.

So to sum up:

Try your shoes on properly because like any other product if it’s not defective, you have no right to any recourse. You are very unlikely to get a refund - and an exchange or credit would be a favour and totally at the discretion of the store.

If the shoes aren’t right - you discover they are mismatched or they start falling apart in the first six months when worn in the normal way, for example, you can take them back for a refund, replacement or repair regardless of whether you bought them on sale or not.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If they do, tell me… 

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