CONSUMER RIGHTS: What you need to know


I recently purchased a video camera. But once I got home my wife was very unhappy with me, as she felt it was something totally unnecessary for which we didn’t have the money.

She was actually right – as this stage we are just getting by with our money, since everything is getting more expensive by the day, and the children’s school fees are in arrears as well. Consequently I didn’t even open the video camera’s packaging and took it back to the store with the receipt the very next day.

Eventually they did take it back, but only after much begging and pleading from my side. I’ve read before that there is something called a ‘cooling off period’ after you’ve bought something. Can you please tell me more about that? – Video buyer, Newcastle


Firstly, it should be noted that in our law there is no general right of return of goods. So if you’ve bought something but have a change of heart the next day, there is no legal ground on which you can rely to ‘force’ the store to accept the returned item and refund you your money. Some stores allow you to do this or have a refunds policy which caters for voluntary returns, but if a store refuses to do so, there is no legal right which can require them to do so.

The Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (CPA) does provide a consumer relief in certain specific cases which relate to among others, goods that were bought as a result of direct marketing, or where the goods do not meet the type or quality you would reasonably expect, or do not perform as you were lead to believe, or where the goods are defective. In these cases a consumer can return goods and claim a refund from the store.

In respect of your query regarding a ‘cooling off period’, the CPA does provide for such a right but only where a consumer bought goods as a result of direct marketing and then after having ‘cooled off’ changes his mind and wishes to return the goods.

Direct marketing in short entails any approach by a business whether in person or by electronic means (such as email marketing) for the purpose of promoting or offering for sale goods or services to a person.

In the case of direct marketing, the consumer can return the goods within five business days from the date of the transaction or the date the goods were delivered to the consumer (whichever is the later) and the supplier must return any payment received within 15 business days from the date of receipt of the notice from the consumer (where no goods where delivered) or from the date of the return of the goods.

No penalty for any return of goods may be claimed from the consumer, but the consumer will be liable for any costs relating to the return of the goods, for example where they have to be couriered back to the store.

If in your situation, the video camera was not bought as a result of direct marketing by the store, the cooling off period would not apply and any refund provided by the store would be purely a goodwill gesture by the store if the store’ refund policy did not provide for such a return.

The provisions for cooling off have been included in the CPA to provide relief to a consumer who makes a decision as a result of direct marketing and ‘succumbs’ to the pressure of modern high-pressure selling by allowing a period within which the consumer after mature reflection can reverse his decision and climb out of the transaction.

The CPA does provide remedies but these cannot be used to replace sound reflection and judgment on your part. So consumer beware – think twice before swiping your plastic!

Robyn Pentz – DBM Attorneys

Reveshni Moodley

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