To mark World Consumer Rights Day on 15 March, here are 5 things that you really ought to know before you buy.
1. Do your research
4 in 5 (77%) of NI consumers would typically check the price of goods and services against other providers before they buy but only 22% check previous customer feedback and 18% check the after-sales care.
If you're buying from a company you haven't dealt with before, or a product that's new to you, insert the details into a search engine or ask around first to find out what previous customers have said. Maybe the price is right but what about the customer service and after-sales care?
Encouragingly, 57% of businesses report having a formal complaints handling process in place but 30% of businesses don't train their staff in consumer law and customer care.
With very little financial investment, businesses can boost customer loyalty by committing themselves to providing excellent customer care before and after sales. This can give them a competitive edge and will help generate positive word of mouth about their business.
2. Shop smart online
More than 1 in 3 NI consumers shop online at least once a month but only 8% check the website offers a secure payment facility.
When shopping online, always check when you get to the payments section that the web address for the site starts with https. The 's' stands for secure. You should also see a little padlock symbol in the window browser bar and in newer versions of the browser the address bar or the name of the site owner will turn green.
For more information on this and how to spot fake websites, visit www.getsafeonline.org/
3. Pays to be safe
Less than half of NI consumers know that buying goods with your credit card offers extra protection.
Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act works when you're paying by credit card for a single item costing between £100 and £30,000. It comes in handy if the goods you've bought are faulty, aren't as described, or fail to arrive at all. It can be especially useful if the business you bought from has ceased trading.
Even if you use your credit card to pay a fraction of the full amount (as little as £1), your credit card provider is liable to help you get your money back if things go wrong.
Tip: Always try to pay your credit card bill in full each month to avoid paying interest.
4. Don't warrant excuses
Only 30% of consumers and 45% of businesses know that if goods, for example a computer, developed a fault after a year and a half, the shop has to deal with the problem regardless of whether the warranty period has expired.
The Sale of Goods Act 1979 (SOGA) says that anything you buy must be:
- Fit for purpose;
- As described; and
- Must be of satisfactory quality.
The law also says that the goods must continue to be in good working condition for a reasonable amount of time. The law doesn't make clear what's meant by 'reasonable' but it will be partly based on what the item is and how much you paid for it.
In theory, SOGA can apply for up to six years. Be aware that in the first six months, the retailer would have to prove the goods aren't faulty if they dispute this. After six months however, the customer may have to prove the goods are faulty and that it's not a case of wear and tear or a failure to follow care instructions.
Consumers and businesses can find out more about consumer rights by contacting Consumerline on 0300 123 6262 or visit consumerline.org
5. In receipt of the facts
Only 32% of consumers and 47% of businesses knew that a customer is not legally entitled to a refund if they bring back goods they no longer want.
Even with a receipt, if you've brought back something simply because you've changed your mind e.g. it doesn't fit or it's the wrong colour, by law, the shop doesn't have to give you a refund.
The retailer may decide to offer you a refund or credit note as a gesture of goodwill, but they don't have to do this by law.
As well as rights, consumers also have responsibilities, so if you can, try before you buy or check at the point of sale that you can bring something back and get a full refund if it doesn't suit.