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The Consumer’s rights to returning goods as per the CPA

Explaining the Consumer’s Right to Return Goods as per the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)

Last week we dealt with two of the four instances whereby a consumer can return goods in terms of the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2002 (the “CPA”). This week we will discuss the other two instances. Just to recap from last week:

When may a consumer return goods under the CPA?

Consumers are not afforded a general right of return in terms of the CPA. Accordingly, a consumer may only return goods under the CPA in four instances, namely:

  • Goods that had not been inspected prior to being purchased;
  • During the “cooling-off” period after direct marketing;
  • Goods that do not meet a particular purpose; and
  • An implied warranty of quality.

Each of these four instances are dealt with individually and the article had therefore been broken down into two separate parts.

This week we will deal with the remaining two instances, namely: ‘Goods that do not meet a particular purpose’ and ‘An implied warranty of quality’.

We will also have a look at the impact of Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002 (“ECTA”) on consumer returns, as well as the importance of refunds and refund policies.

Goods that do not meet a particular purpose

The CPA further provides that should a consumer inform a supplier of the intended use of the goods for a specific purpose, and the supplier advises the consumer that the goods will meet this particular purpose, the consumer may–

  • within 10 days of receiving the goods–
    • return the goods if they are not suitable for the intended purpose; and
    • cancel without penalty.

The supplier shall bear the cost of collecting the goods from the consumer.

The consumer, however, is not entitled to return the goods if–

  • for example, for reasons of public health, such return of goods is prohibited by regulation; or
  • the consumer had partially or entirely disassembled, altered, added to or combined the goods with other goods or property.

An implied warranty of quality

All goods purchased by a consumer are accompanied by an implied warranty of quality, which cannot be contracted out of or be revoked. The warranty gives the consumer the right to receive goods that are–

  • reasonably suitable for the purpose for which they are intended;
  • of good quality, free of defects and in good working order; and
  • durable and usable for a reasonable period of time.

Should the goods not comply with the above requirements, the consumer may, within a period of up to 6 months after receiving the goods

  • return the goods and demand a refund; or
  • have the goods replaced; or
  • have the goods repaired.

The consumer may opt for any of the above, without penalty, at the cost of the supplier. Subsequently, a general voetstoots clause shall not be applicable; however, should the supplier have taken the necessary steps to make the consumer aware of specific defects, the voetstoots principle shall be applicable.

Are you obliged to provide a refund?

If a consumer is entitled to a refund in terms of the CPA, such right shall be interpreted to mean that the consumer has the right to choose how to receive the refund. While refunds by means of in-store vouchers or credits are not illegal as such, the consumer may demand a cash refund, in which case the supplier shall be obliged to provide such.

More importantly, in terms of section 56 of the CPA, the consumer may decide whether he/she wants to be refunded or have the goods repaired or replaced.

How important are Refund and Return Policies?

If you are a supplier of goods, one of the most important aspects to consider is a Refund and Return Policy which complies with the provisions of the CPA.

A good Refund and Return Policy, coupled with excellent customer service, will be essential in avoiding complaints made to the National Consumer Commission or even litigation.

The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act and Returns

If you supply goods online, you will need to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002 (“ECTA”). ECTA will have dominance over the provisions of the CPA in respect of online transactions. Accordingly, ECTA provides that a consumer may cancel the transaction–

  • within seven days after delivery;
  • for any reason; and
  • without penalty.

The consumer shall bear the cost of returning the goods to the supplier. If you sell goods online, you must therefore ensure compliance with both the CPA and ECTA.

SERR Synergy assists businesses that supply goods or services with the compilation of a Refund and Return Policy that is compliant with the provisions of the CPA and ECTA (where applicable). We also review your existing policies to ensure that they are aligned with legislation and comply with the CPA and ECTA.

About the Author: Montenique Hayward is a BCom (Law) [2011], LLB [2013] and LLM [2017] graduate from the University of Pretoria. During her LLM studies, she specialised in Consumer Protection and was, subsequently, awarded the JUTA award for the highest mark obtained at the end of her LLM. She was also admitted as an attorney of the High Court in 2015 and practiced as such before joining our team in 2017 as a Corporate Legal Advisor.