M Webster Holdings Pty Ltd, trading as David Lawrence, Jigsaw and Marcs, has paid three Infringement Notices totalling $19,800 to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission following an investigation into Webster's refund policies.
Webster has also offered a court enforceable undertaking to the ACCC to address the issues with its refund policies.
From at least 1 August 2008 to 29 July 2010 David Lawrence, Jigsaw and Marcs stores stated on receipts and on in-store signs that the stores would not offer an exchange, refund or credit on sale goods.
"That is incorrect," ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said today. "Retailers cannot exclude a consumer's right to a refund or exchange simply because goods are bought on sale.
"There are a number of statutory warranties and conditions implied into every consumer contract which sellers of goods are unable to contract out of regardless of whether or not the item is on sale.
"No refund signs or notices of this nature may mislead consumers to believe that they have no right to a refund, exchange or credit on sale goods in any circumstances, which may be untrue because the consumer may be entitled to such remedies," he said.
"With the Christmas/New Year sales approaching, consumers should be aware that if goods are damaged, don't meet the description or are not fit for purpose, then retailers may not refuse to provide a refund or exchange simply because the goods were bought on sale."
From 1 January 2011 the statutory warranties and conditions will be replaced by a new consumer guarantees regime. The consumer guarantees are a set of rights that all consumers are entitled to whenever they buy goods or services in Australia. For example, goods must be of acceptable quality, fit for any specified purpose and must match any description given or sample shown.
While the name of these rights will change, the underlying principle will stay the same—that consumers ought to be able to obtain a remedy from a supplier if goods or services do not meet a certain standard, don't do what they're supposed to do or don't match a description or sample. The misleading and deceptive conduct provisions will also continue to apply to store policies and any statements which may misrepresent consumers' rights to a remedy.
"This is a timely reminder for all retail stores to review their refund or returns policies to ensure that the policies offered to consumers do not contravene the Act, particularly with the second phase of the Australian Consumer Law taking effect on New Year's Day," Mr Samuel said.
The ACCC has developed materials to assist businesses to understand and comply with the new consumer guarantees regime, including an online education module and publications. The ACCC strongly recommends businesses act now to ensure they are aware of how this new law affects their practices.
In the undertaking accepted by the ACCC, Webster has agreed to ensure that all refund statements made in each of its stores comply with the Act and display corrective notices on its websites for 28 days. Further Webster will send corrective notices by email to members of each brand's loyalty program and implement a trade practices law compliance program.
The Infringement Notices will be listed on the public register and the undertaking is available on the ACCC's website: http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml?itemId=962379.
Further information on the consumer guarantees regime, including the online education module for store owners, managers and sales staff, can be found at www.accc.gov.au/consumerguarantees.
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