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Know Your Consumer Rights: 13 Ways Retailers Screw You

Updated on July 30, 2015

There was a stage after dealing with a certain cellular network in South Africa that I became well and truly pissed off at local companies and how they get away with screwing over customers. Reading through the consumer watchdog columns in the newspapers and their constant mention of the CPA made me decide to download a copy of it and look through it for myself, and what do you know, several things that I've experienced over time go against the CPA.

Here are just a few of those things.


“You break it, you buy it.”

Can they actually do this? Yes.

Stores often have this hanging somewhere, most commonly found in a store with a lot of expensive china. But the truth is that they can’t really force you to buy something if you break it, unless they can prove that you did so intentionally. If something is broken by accident, then the store loses out on that item, and they can’t legally charge you for it.

If however you were to go around clearly smashing things on purpose, then they could charge you, and could follow it up with reporting you to the police.

Once, long ago, I was in a store and I happened to try and pick up a display model of an item, and it dropped! I felt so flustered because I thought I was going to be charged for it, but I merely put it back on the shelf, fairly certain that it was broken. I wasn't charged for it, even though one of the staff saw it happen. I was told by someone else later on that they were surprised that the store didn't make me pay for it, but seeing as it was determined to be an accident, they couldn't charge me.

What the CPA says:

“Despite any statement or notice to the contrary, a consumer is not responsible for any loss or damage to any goods displayed by a supplier, unless the loss or damage results from action by the consumer amounting to gross negligence or recklessness, malicious behaviour or criminal conduct.”

It's not uncommon for some smaller stores to just hand you a hand written record. That's not good enough.
It's not uncommon for some smaller stores to just hand you a hand written record. That's not good enough. | Source

Not issuing receipts

Can they actually do this? No!

Smaller stores have often not given me a receipt for a purchase. A consumer is entitled to a receipt seeing as if you don’t have one, how will you be able to return your purchase if it’s dysfunctional?

Some stores only provide a receipt if you ask. But they should really should do so whether you ask or not – and a quick hand written record won’t do. Sales records must contain information such as the name and description of goods; date of purchase; price of the item; the quantity of items; total price including tax (and a VAT registration number must be present too), as well as contact information such as the name of the store and address.

What the CPA says:

“Consumers have the right to demand confirmation of purchases made, in the form of receipts or invoices.”

Not including VAT on the price of purchase

Can they actually do this? No!

It depends, but for most major stores, the answer is no. If a store has more than R1 million turnover per year, they must register with SARS (South African Revenue Service) as a VAT vendor. Failure to do so is fraudulent and can be reported to SARS who will take up the matter. And as I’ve heard before, you don’t screw with SARS.

I've seen some major wholesalers do this with prices concerning products that they stock that can be bought by retailers, and they might as well not even bother because it's misleading.


No prices on items

Can they actually do this? No!

I have seen some stores market brochures which lack prices of items. While this may or may not be unethical, stores are certainly not allowed to get away with this with items displayed in-store. Stores are required to display the prices of goods and services, in full view of consumers, hence the reason why items should have a price on them.

I’ve seen at least two major retailers in South Africa fail to do this with the products they sell. I can only imagine stores that charge per weight of items purchased walk a thin line.

What the CPA says:

“Suppliers are required to display the prices of goods and services, in full view of consumers.”


Advertising items they don’t actually sell

Can they actually do this? No!

Recently a store advertised items in their catalogue that arrives with the newspaper that it turns out they don’t actually sell once I visited their store. Granted, a retail chain has many stores or at least a few, and it is advisable that you phone ahead or visit their website to check if they have stock, but it should be made clear in said catalogue which store has stock of said items, and which doesn’t. But if no store in said retail chain stocks that item, then that is false advertising.

I've also witnessed a store advertise and actively update product listings and prices on their website, when they in fact do not sell those items, once I go to the store to actually see for myself. Once again, I'm speaking of a major retailer here.

What the CPA says:

“Suppliers are not permitted to, directly or indirectly, provide consumers with false, misleading or deceptive representations regarding goods or services.”


Not giving you change

Can they actually do this? No!

In South Africa at least, the 1c and 2c stopped being minted in 2002, and more recently the 5c has followed suit. Reason being because of inflation they just lost their value. They are still in circulation, but it’s becoming harder and harder to get a hold of them nowadays.

Stores often charge you R9.99 or R9.95, and more and more stores are not giving customers change. The general rule is that the store has to round the total down so that the customer receives change. So if 1c change is not available, then 5c change is given. If 5c change isn’t available, 10c change is given, and so on. But several stores don’t bother doing this, whereas other stores are now changing their prices, by rounding off the total to the nearest rand, so no change under R1 is possible. So a product that was R9.99, becomes R10.

There has been at least one issue where local retail chain Mr. Price has faced legal trouble for not giving customers change. It is therefore not in compliance with the CPA and is in fact illegal.

I know I've been done out of receiving change on at least a few occasions, and when I brought the topic up on a forum online, they said I was overreacting or that it was no big deal, or better yet, that it was my fault for not paying with a credit card, then it wouldn't be an issue! The amount of consumer apathy around nowadays is astounding!

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“No cash refunds.”

Can they actually do this? No!

Here’s the issue. Stores do not have to take back items that are not broken or dysfunctional before the person has even used them (which is referred to as an OOBF, or an out of the box failure), or items that have broken within six months of purchase. If it’s in good working order, they don’t have to give you a refund.

Some stores state that if the item is returned in its original packaging (as in has not been opened), and you have your receipt (proof of purchase) as well as possibly having to produce a valid form of ID, then they will offer a refund, or a replacement or a repair of the item. Some stores still refuse to do this, and even void your ability to return the item at all because they open the packaging of the item themselves for various reasons (mainly digital media such as DVDs, music CDs, etc.).

I’ve also come across at least two stores who claim that their OOBF clause states that the item, if dysfunctional, should be brought back within 7 days of purchase – not even 7 days from opening the product’s packaging.

Some stores refuse to give you cash refunds and opt instead to offer in-store credit, meaning that you have to buy an item in their store, and you will receive a “discount” on it.

This is against the CPA as well.

What the CPA says:

“Consumers have the right to return unsafe or defective goods and request a full refund for such goods, provided this is done within a reasonable period.”

“Consumers are permitted to return goods to suppliers, without penalty and at the suppliers’ risk and expense, within a period of six (6) months after delivery of such goods, if the goods are of inferior quality, unsafe or defective.”

“Suppliers are obliged to refund, repair or replace the failed, unsafe and defective goods.”


“That item is reserved”

Can they actually do this? No!

On at least one or two occasions I’ve heard of someone going to a supermarket and wanting to pick up a nice barbecued chicken for Sunday lunch. When they enquired why all the big chickens were sitting on the bottom shelf and not on display, the person behind the counter at the deli said those chickens were reserved for staff.

They can’t do this. Reserving items for any reason whatsoever goes against the CPA, even if a customer asks in advance if a copy can be held for them. This isn’t legal. If a customer comes in to the store and wants to buy that item, it must be for sale.

What the CPA says:

"Suppliers are not permitted to limit access to goods and services."


Making you stay on after a contract expires

Can they actually do this? Yes.

The truth is they can do this. If you have signed a contract for whatever it may be, and the contract comes to an end, you have to cancel it manually otherwise they must, in compliance with the CPA, keep you on month-to-month until you cancel it. And they cannot penalise you unless you cancel while the contract is still valid. In other words, you have to provide 20 business days’ notice in writing, preferably by filling out a form that the supplier should provide.

What the CPA says:

"Consumers have the right to cancel fixed-term agreements upon expiry of the contract period, without penalty or charge."

"Consumers are obliged to provide suppliers with 20 business days’ notice, in writing or other recorded means, of cancellation of fixed-term agreements. Reasonable penalties may apply."

"Suppliers must extend fixed-term agreements on a month-to-month basis, if the consumers failed to request the cancellation of such agreements."


"Your prepaid airtime/data bundle will expire in 30 days"

Can they actually do this? No!

It’s absolute rubbish when cellular networks tell consumers that prepaid airtime or data bundles will expire in a short period of time. The CPA states that prepaid bundles must be valid for 3 years. For this reason, it is necessary for cellular networks to scrap the whole idea of monthly caps on prepaid deals; they must offer all data up front, and it must be valid for 3 years for it to be legal.

Contract deals can offer capped data per month and can have the deal last for 12 or 24 months (which they usually do), since it isn’t a prepaid voucher and therefore isn’t subject to the same guidelines set by the CPA.

What the CPA says:

"A prepaid certificate, card, credit, voucher or similar device does not expire until the earlier of
(a) the date on which its full value has been redeemed in exchange for goods or
services or future access to services; or
(b) three years after the date on which it was issued, or at the end of a longer or
extended period agreed by the supplier at any time."


Receiving unwanted texts, phone calls and emails

Can they actually do this? No!

Telemarketers are a nuisance, and receiving spammy smses and emails is a pain we have to put up with daily. Or do we? According to the CPA, we have the right to protect our privacy and confidentiality and refuse unwanted or unsolicited correspondence. That’s what I’ve told telemarketers when they phone me. I tell them they have no right to call my number seeing as it is an unlisted number, as in it is not in the phone book.

And the South African government is going to make spam, telemarketing calls, and cold calls illegal in future. Right now, the worst offenders when it comes to spam are named and shamed publicly in a few places, so if businesses don’t want to get a bad name, then they had better stop with this nonsense.

Consumers can opt out of receiving any unsolicited marketing by going to national optout and filling in a form there.

What the CPA says:

"Consumers have the right to refuse unwanted sms’s, telephone calls, letters or ‘spam’ e-mail.

"Consumers have the right to opt out of receiving unsolicited direct marketing services by blocking the relevant supplier/marketer."

"Consumers have the right to accept, restrict or refuse unwanted direct marketing."

"Companies and suppliers are not permitted to continue any unsolicited direct marketing of goods and services, once consumers have opted out."


Selling you display models

Can they actually do this? No!

Years ago I was in a store and wanted to buy a pair of shoes. After trying on several, I settled for a pair and to my horror, the salesperson put the display shoe in the same box as the other. When I got home I had some serious buyers remorse because looking at the one shoe, it was clearly more worn than the other.

In retrospect however, I could have demanded that I not be sold a display model, and instead be given a pair of non-display model shoes. I brought this up with the salesperson at the time, but he was very nonchalant about the whole thing. He didn’t care. Which is probably why I didn’t see him working in that store after that.

What the CPA says:

"Consumers have the right to refuse display items or opened goods, and request unopened/ new goods."


Charging you the higher price for an item

Can they actually do this? No!

Not too long ago my mom and brother both bought new LED TVs. Low and behold, barely a week later they had both items on sale. Feeling cheesed off, I advised them that they should just go back with their receipt and demand to have that item at the lower price. And the store did just that, and refunded them the difference.

Seeing as technically the sale wasn’t on at the time when they bought the item, they could have just refused to do this. So I might have to put it down to excellent customer service.

But really, there have been times in my life where a product is listed at a higher price on the till slip compared with the price tag in store, and in this case, you can go back to the store and demand that you get a partial refund, and pay the price you saw on the label and not the one on the till slip.

What the CPA says:

"Consumers have the right to demand paying the lower price for goods displaying two varying prices – suppliers are not permitted to charge consumers the higher price for the same goods."

Have you ever been screwed by a retailer?

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    • Anti-Valentine profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from My lair

      Thank you, Matt. I'm glad you like it!

    • Matt Easterbrook5 profile image

      Matthew A Easterbrook 

      4 years ago from Oregon

      Anti-Valentine great hub. You provided us consumers with some very valuable information. Yes I myself have had buyers remorse on a few items and I have even refunded a lot of those items, A lot of people do not know their rights, so this is a great tool that you have provided them. One time I purchased an expensive stereo and just like you mentioned I took it back after they raised the price only a day after buying it. They of course discounted it to the sale price. Great writing on this hub!


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