There are various situations where the Consumer Protection Act* gives consumers the right to return goods and obtain a refund:
- Cooling-off period: goods bought after direct marketing can be returned within 5 business days. See article available at: https://www.broekmann.co.za/cooling-off/
- Goods which the consumer has not had a chance to inspect before purchase.
- Goods that do not meet a particular purpose that the consumer has communicated to the supplier.
- Defective goods that are returned within 6 months of delivery.
- Where a mixture of goods was purchased and the consumer has refused delivery of any of those goods, usually because some of the goods supplied weren’t the ones ordered.
- Goods that are selected on the basis of a sample or a description (e.g. from a catalogue or online platform), that don’t fit the sample and description when delivered.
For practical reasons, a consumer is not allowed to return goods that have been disassembled, physically altered, permanently installed, joined to other goods or property.
When none of these legal grounds apply, suppliers can set their own refund and returns policies- for example if the consumer just changes their mind about the purchase, the supplier is under no obligation to accept the return or refund the consumer.
There are also circumstances where, unless the goods are defective, returns and refunds are not allowed, despite the above legal grounds affording consumers an opportunity to do so. The consumer has no right of return if for reasons of public health, a public regulation prohibits the return of those goods. A consumer is only prevented from returning goods if one of the following applies:
The return of certain medicine for credit is restricted in terms of the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act. The Code of Conduct for Pharmacists and the Good Pharmacy Practice guidelines also prohibits the re-dispensing of certain medicines and medical devices that have been in a patient’s possession. Further, perishable goods that have passed their expiry date, and certain safety gear also cannot be returned.
While there is no public regulation that prohibits the return of underwear, according to the Consumer Goods and Services ombud, a supplier can also refuse the return of underwear that has been worn but must specifically draw this policy to the attention of the purchaser. The fact it does not fit, does not give rise to a right of return, unless it had the incorrect tag regarding its size. The ombud’s approach may be a bit harsh- underwear is often purchased as a gift and it’s very hard to guess at the right size, especially for a brassiere. In our view, if the underwear has just been tried on, not worn, the retailer should accept return.
There is also no public regulation that prohibits the return of any goods as a result of Covid-19 and the health risks associated with the virus. See the press release of the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud with regards to the return of clothing at the time of Covid-19 Pandemic available at: http://www.cgso.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/CGSO-Press-Release-14-May-2020.pdf. Where a retailer prevents consumers from fitting items during the pandemic, they should accept returns if goods don’t fit.
*Remember, the CPA applies when the transaction takes place in SA, when the seller is acting in the ordinary course of his business and when you have to pay for the goods or services.