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CPA: What you need to know about returning defective or faulty products

At some stage or another, we’ve all purchased goods that were defective or faulty.  In the past, returning a product that didn’t quite work like the box said it would, or returning a TV that didn’t switch on meant negotiating with a supplier, providing a receipt and hoping that you would be treated fairly.

With the inception of the Consumer Protection Act, those days are long gone – even if the store “policy” or “management” think otherwise…

Remember though, a consumer’s right of return in terms of the CPA is limited - you cannot for example return a pair of shoes or flat screen TV when buyers remorse kicks in and you realise you have spent far too much money. 

You can, under certain circumstances, and for a limited period of time return goods if:

  • They were faulty and / or defective; or

  • They do not meet the specific purpose for which they were purchased; or

  • They were purchased as a result of direct marketing (consumer has a “cooling off” period); or

  • They were not seen (examined) before purchase

Looking specifically at faulty or defective goods, if the product you buy turns out to be a dud you do have recourse, and you can return the product, even when the store owner or management claims otherwise.  Crucially, you cannot be forced into a repair or store credit – you have the right to chose between a repair, replacement or full refund and you can do this anytime within 6 months of purchase.

Section 56 (read with section 55) of the CPA creates an automatic warranty that all goods sold are:

  • reasonably suitable for the purpose for which they are generally intended;

  • of good quality, in good working order and free of any defects;

  • will be useable and durable for a reasonable period of time;

  • comply with the Standards Act/ other public regulations; and

  • reasonably suitable for the specific purpose that the consumer has informed the supplier that the consumer wants to use them for.

Importantly at the supplier's risk and expense, and without penalty a consumer may return any defective or faulty product within 6 months.

A supplier cannot force a consumer to opt to have the goods repaired if the consumer prefers a refund or replacement unless the defect is insignificant or minor. The consumer can insist on a cash refund instead of a store credit or vouchers, or on a replacement with something similar at no additional cost. The supplier may not force the consumer to purchase a more expensive model or brand. The supplier must bear the costs of repairing, collecting and/ or replacing the defective goods and may not charge for usage or wear and tear on the returned product.

Returns for defective and/or faulty goods will not apply if the consumer was specifically told that the particular goods were offered in a specific condition (i.e.: sold as is / voetstoets) or if the consumer tampers with the goods (altered contrary to the instructions).

If you are a supplier, it is important to have a CPA compliant returns and/or refund policy in place.

Written by - Lee Swales LLB, LLM

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