The new year brings with it the January sales and undoubtedly most consumers are eager to take advantage of the promoted bargains. Sales give consumers the opportunity to get more value for their money as they have a chance to buy products at lower prices.
This prospect prompts consumers to shop more during ‘sales’. Consumers must, however, be careful, as thoughtless shopping may result in disappointments and problems rather than a good bargain.
Consumers must first of all be aware that products sold at reduced prices must still be of good quality and with no hidden defects. This means that sellers cannot use ‘sales’ as an excuse to sell substandard or damaged products. If an item offered at a discounted price is damaged or shop-soiled, consumers must be clearly informed about this before concluding the sale.
Furthermore, when consumers are informed that the discounted items offered for sale are damaged, they are advised to first check what the defects are and then consider whether to proceed with the sale or not.
Consumers should also remember that if they are informed about a fault before concluding a sale, they have no right to complain about the same fault after the sale. However, if a different fault develops, then consumers have the same legal rights as if the product was purchased at full price.
In fact, consumers should not forget that their legal rights do not change just because goods are bought at a reduced price. Thus, if the goods purchased turn out to be faulty, sellers are obliged to provide consumers with a free of charge suitable remedy.
Consumers must also always keep in mind that should they change their mind after purchasing certain products, they do not have an automatic right to return the unwanted goods. In this case, the consumers’ right to a remedy depends on the seller’s return policy and any other pre-sale agreements made with the seller.
With regard to shops’ return policies, it is worth noting that these policies often change during ‘sales’. Some sellers may also decide to adopt a ‘no return’ policy for goods sold at discounted prices.
Consumers’ legal rights do not change just because goods are bought at a reduced price– Odette Vella
Consumers are therefore advised to double- check the shop’s return policy before finalising a sale. Retailers should also properly inform their customers about the changed policies so as to avoid unnecessary disputes and complaints.
A situation consumers may find themselves in is that of returning a defective product purchased at full price during ‘sales’. In this case, if the defective goods can neither be repaired nor replaced, then consumers are entitled to a full refund of the money originally paid. It is important that when making such a claim, consumers present the proof of purchase.
To find the best bargains, consumers need to shop around and compare prices and offers. Sellers, on the other hand, must make their offers clear and avoid ambiguous terms and conditions. Price reduction claims must be genuine. It is, in fact, illegal for shops to pretend that goods have been reduced from a higher price when in actual fact the goods were never offered for sale at the claimed price.
The Price Indication Regulations oblige sellers to indicate the final selling price and also to indicate the prior price before the application of the discounted price. Furthermore, these rules specify that the prior price to which the discounted price is compared to, must be the lowest price the product was sold by the trader within at least 30 days preceding the price reduction announcement.
In situations where the goods have been for sale for less than 30 days, the prior price must be the lowest price at which the product was sold before the ‘sale’ started.
Signs displaying sales percentages must also be truthful. For instance, it is misleading, and hence in breach of consumer legislation, for shops to display signs advertising a specific discount but then in the shops there are items for sale that are either not discounted at all, or not discounted at the advertised rate.
If during this upcoming ‘sales’ season consumers encounter misleading practices, such as false discount offers, they may report these practices through the ‘Flag a Concern Form’, which may be accessed through the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority’s website on the following link: https://mccaa.org.mt/ home/infringement or by calling on the authority’s freephone 8007 4400. Consumers may also contact the authority for advice and assistance on their legal rights.
Odette Vella is director, Information and Research Directorate, MCCAA.
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