We live in a consumer society. That goes without saying.We reach into our purses and wallets to make purchases of some sort almost every single day of our lives. This might only be a dollar for a loaf of bread or carton of milk. But there are also times where it will be a few hundred dollars for a new kitchen appliance or a few thousand dollars for a new vehicle.

Regardless of the size of our purchases, spending becomes such a habit that it can be easy for us to forget our rights as consumers. This might not pose much of a problem for those above smaller, everyday purchases. But when we buy something large and expensive we want to rest safe in the knowledge that we have invested our money wisely and made the right decisions throughout the checkout process. We also want to know that we are protected beyond the till. Just because we have stepped out of the store, doesn’t mean that the seller is void of any further responsibility to us. This is where consumer rights come to the rescue.

What are consumer rights?

We are all aware that we have rights as consumers. But surprisingly few of us know what these rights actually entail. There are generally agreed upon areas that consumer rights cover. In short, consumer rights are in place to protect buyers from harm. Some rights are put into legislation, others are unspoken agreements between suppliers and customers. They give consumers a way to fight back against unjust or unfair deals or mis sold products. Here are the four main rights that every consumer should have: safety, information, choice and privacy.

Safety

The most important consumer right is that of safety. This means that when you buy a product, you should be able to assume that it is safe when used for its intended purpose and following the directions given. Any risks or hazards should be clearly labelled and there should also be information on the packaging regarding what to do if the product is misused. You will probably be familiar with terms such as “avoid contact with eyes” on shampoo bottles and “if ingested, seek medical assistance” on other non-edible goods.

Information

Consumers also have the right of access to truthful information regarding products that they may purchase. This means that they purchase the product without being led on by false claims. This is important, as every buyer should always be able to make an informed decision when choosing one product over another.

Choice

All consumers have the right to choice. This means that no one company should hold an entire monopoly over a single area of a product’s market. There should always be fair competition, allowing the consumer to make an informed choice when deciding which company to buy a particular product from. There should be a variety of alternatives available regarding price, quality and service.

Privacy

E commerce is a rapidly increasing area of retail. More and more people are spending their money online, rather than heading out to their local shops. However, this rise in shopping online has coincided with a rise of identity theft. Computer hackers often attempt to target online consumers; stealing the personal information, bank details and sometimes even their identities.

All online stores should have a privacy policy that is clearly visible and available for their users to read. This should let the consumer know how their information is being protected and if it is being used by third parties. A privacy policy will generally detail the intended sharing of personal information, let users know about tracking and cookies being used by the site and a comprehensive list of the information being collected from them.

Freedom to Speak Out

If you believe that you have made a purchase without any of the above prerequisites, you have the freedom to speak out against the company you purchased from. Your complaints should be dealt with professionally and any problematic situation should be rectified in a smooth and stress-free process. Complying with consumer rights is a must for any business. After all, good customer rapport is what keeps the profits coming in.

If an individual is sold a faulty item, the business may not only lose their custom if the item isn’t repaired or replaced. They will also lose the custom of anyone that the individual badmouths their business to as well. However, many companies will attempt to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes if they feel that the consumer doesn’t know any better. This results in people being denied services that they are entitled to. This is why it’s so important that you know your rights. If you don’t know them, you can’t enforce them.

Warranties

When making any large purchase, ensure that the product has a warranty. A warranty is a symbol of a company or brand’s faith in their own product. The business will guarantee that their product will function correctly for a set period of time. This period of time is the warranty period. The longer the period, the more confident they are in their product.

For a full guide on warranties, read this review. It will give you an in-depth example of everything you should look for in a product’s guarantee. To keep things short here, remember these key questions to ask yourself before handing over large sum of cash. How long does the warranty last? The longer the warranty, the better quality a product will generally be. Will the item be repaired or replaced if faulty? Repairs can often take awhile, whilst replacements are much faster.

If this is a product that will need fixing quickly if things were to go wrong, you might prefer to opt for a manufacturer who replaces items with few qualms. Who do you have to contact to claim your warranty? Some brands offer in-store exchanges for their products. This is much more convenient and preferable to sending items off in the post, where they can undergo further accidental damage. Are there any conditions or limitations? Some companies will have so many hoops to jump through for you to get a replacement product that it’s hardly worth the hassle. Read up on the conditions and limitations of a product’s warranty, so you know exactly what you are letting yourself in for.

The answer to these questions can help you to make the final decision between two competitive products. Finally: never accept a spoken warranty. Sometimes a salesperson will say anything you want to hear in order to make a deal or sale. But verbal agreements can easily be forgotten in a short matter of time. Make sure that any agreements, terms and conditions are put down on paper to ensure that you have proof of the warranty offered to you.

 

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Refunds and Exchanges

You should always have the opportunity to change your mind after making a purchase, unless you are clearly told that an item is non-refundable before you pay for it. Every store should have their refund policy clearly displayed for you to read. This will usually be located somewhere near the till or checkout desk. The amount of time that you have to refund your items changes from state to state. But most stores will not refund an item if you return it later than thirty days. This is considered an appropriate amount of time to allow a customer to reflect on their purchase. Products returned after this period may still be exchanged for another item from the store or for store credit at the discretion of the store manager.

This general rule, however, changes when it comes to faulty or flawed goods. If you get your new item home, only to realize that it isn’t in the condition it should have been sold, you can return the item to the store for a full refund. Common damages include chips (to ceramic or glass goods) and tears or stains (for clothes). Make sure that items are returned in the same condition that you bought them and in their original packaging, otherwise you may be turned away. You will also have to take your original receipt along too.

Further Steps

If a seller refuses to resolve the problem directly, you may have to turn to third parties to help you to recover your money. Early stages will include mediation. This a process where you and the seller can attempt to come to some sort of agreement without legal intervention. A neutral third party will assess the situation and guide conversation or communication between the two involved parties. The mediator will encourage compromise. This process is usually a success. However, if you still cannot come to an agreement following mediation, you will have to take the issue further. This means legal action. This is a drastic step and most businesses will avoid legal action against their company at any cost. Court cases can quickly become very expensive and reputation-tarnishing affairs. So the chances of having to carry through this process is rare. However, if it comes down to it and you are in the right, you will be well represented. Seek legal aid from a specialist in consumer law. If there is a lot of money on the line, this will be worth every cent.

By Erica Buteau

Change Agent. Daydream Believer. Maker. Creative. Likes love, peace and Jeeping. Dislikes winter, paper cuts and war. She/Her/Hers.

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