“You have the right to a repair, replacement or refund if your goods are faulty, unsafe, do not work or appear as they should. You have the right to a repair, compensation or refund, if the services you received are not right. Which remedy, and who gets to pick, depends on the problem.”  - Australian Consumer and Competition Commission

If you’re anything like me, it can takes weeks or even months to research a product to buy.  Competing flash sales and sign up discounts within a crowded international marketplace can cause analysis paralysis, sometimes prolonging a final decision.  But once you land on the item you want to invest in, it’s fair enough to expect that said item will do what it was advertised to do, have no faults and not fall apart within a reasonable timeframe.  Thankfully, consumers in Australia (since 2011) are protected under Australian Consumer Law from bad quality or faulty products. When you buy products or services in Australia, they come with an automatic guarantee that they will do what they are supposed to do.  

If a product purchase lets you down, it might be easier to let it go and cut your losses by not chasing up a refund.  But in my opinion, part of being a responsible consumer includes standing up for your rights and ensuring that sellers are upholding their end of the retail bargain.

Here are a few tips to help you chase that refund if required  

Tip 1:

Keep your receipts

A physical or digital receipt is usually required in the case of a return or refund for change of mind.  However in the case of faulty goods as long as you have some form of proof of purchase (such as a credit or debit card statement) you should still be able to pursue a refund.  You will always have an easier time requesting a refund, exchange or replacement if you have the official receipt.  With so many purchases now completed online, it’s often just a matter of searching through your PayPal or emails to find the transactional email which you can easily reference.  

Tip 2:

Read terms and conditions and purchase policies before you buy

Most physical retail stores and online stores have their terms and conditions clearly stated at the check out, on their receipts or on their website.  It’s a good idea to become familiar with purchase policies of retail stores, online shops and global marketplaces such as Ebay.  Read the terms and conditions of the purchase before you buy and check to see if refunds/returns are available.  For fashion items on sale for example, often a refund is not available for change of mind.  However in the case of faulty items, even if you bought it on sale, you should be eligible for a full refund.  Keep in mind, some ‘terms and conditions’ don’t actually comply with Australian Consumer Law, meaning you are still protected even if a business quotes its own conflicting policies. 

Tip 3:

Only pay via protected payment portals

To be protected from Australian Consumer Law, you need to be buying from Australian businesses.  There’s a great reason to support small local business right there!

If purchasing from an offshore business it’s a good idea to buy via a payment portal which has in-built buyer protection such as PayPal (though be wary of PayPal scams).  It’s worth being extra vigilant about your payment methods particularly when buying online.  PayPal recommends you first take up any purchase dispute with the seller.  If you don’t get a positive outcome from the seller, you can open a case with PayPal and begin a dispute process.  PayPal’s ‘Buyer Protection’ not only covers the cost of the item bought, but also postage fees if you win your ‘case’. 

Online global marketplaces such as Ebay have its own Money Back Guarantee.  Etsy is another online marketplace which has inbuilt consumer protection as well as detailed policies for both buyers and sellers (https://www.etsy.com/au/legal/buyers/).

If an offshore seller or business is asking you to transfer money into their account, rather than via a secure payment method, that should be a red flag anyway and to not go ahead with the transaction at all. 

Tip 4: 

Be Polite, patient and persistent

Having worked in retail for over 8 years in my 20s I’ve had my fair share of abusive customers demanding refunds over faulty products or adverse reactions to skincare. The customer is upset and wants their money back - this is fair and understandable.  However, being rude, aggressive and speaking down to the shop assistant doesn’t help their cause, and if anything, inspires the shop assistant to avoid helping them.  It also doesn't help if you are in a hurry, as this will make you less patient and more cranky towards the shop assistant.  

Refunds and returns can sometimes take a while (whether you are approaching a physical or online store) due to various procedures that need to be adhered to.  Call rather than email a business if possible.  If email is your only point of contact, be prepared to follow up every few days if you don’t receive a timely response.

If chasing up a refund in a physical store, try to avoid busy times as sales will always be put ahead of dealing with a refund.  Make sure you have plenty of time on your hands, and speak to the customer service assistant as pleasantly as you can while explaining why you believe you are entitled to a refund or replacement.   It’s likely you will be offered a store credit before a full refund is given.  However if an item is faulty or not fit for purpose, you are entitled to a full refund.  You may need to be assertive (though still polite) as you advocate your rights and request a full refund rather than a replacement or gift voucher. 

Tip 5: 

Don’t give up!  

Ask to speak to a manager if you're not getting anywhere.  Casual shop assistants are often not authorised to give refunds, so they may need to get the floor manager into the conversation if you are wanting to walk away with your refund in full.   A manager will be across store policies and will likely be more assertive around what wiggle room they have regarding refunds and returns.   They too, will likely try to push a store credit your way. 

Tip 6: 

Know your rights

If the previous tips don’t work begin to quote Australian Consumer Law.  Hopefully you won’t have to bring out the big guns, but it’s a good idea to be prepared. 

The below is what you need to know as a consumer if you feel you are deserving of a refund.  This info has been taken directly from the ACCC website here.   

Since 1 January 2011, the following consumer guarantees on products and services apply.

Products must be of acceptable quality, that is:

  • safe, lasting, with no faults
  • look acceptable
  • do all the things someone would normally expect them to do

Acceptable quality takes into account what would normally be expected for the type of product and cost.

Products must also:

  • match descriptions made by the salesperson, on packaging and labels, and in promotions or advertising
  • match any demonstration model or sample you asked for
  • be fit for the purpose the business told you it would be fit for and for any purpose that you made known to the business before purchasing
  • come with full title and ownership
  • not carry any hidden debts or extra charges
  • come with undisturbed possession, so no one has a right to take the goods away or prevent you from using them
  • meet any extra promises made about performance, condition and quality, such as life time guarantees and money back offers
  • have spare parts and repair facilities available for a reasonable time after purchase unless you were told otherwise.

Tip 7:

Become a conscious consumer  

Be really discerning before you make any purchase.  Do you actually need it? 

Best way to avoid faulty or disappointing products?  Avoid shopping altogether!

For more info about your rights as a consumer in relation to replacements and refunds visit:  http://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees/repair-replace-refund 

Alison Gallagher is a freelance writer, resourcefulness expert and entrepreneur. She has been featured in various publications including Stellar Magazine, Australian Health and Fitness Magazine, and Cleo Magazine. Alison is particularly passionate about sharing practical tips on how to live simply, sustainably and seasonally.  

15 June 2023