Buyer beware
Keep the following points in mind:

  • shop staff are there to sell you a product, not ensure you understand your rights as a consumer;
  • the lowest price is not always the best price if the goods are faulty, the service is below standard, or the store refuses to exchange/refund;
  • check the product for faults before you buy - get advice if you are unsure;
  • know the warranty (or guarantee) conditions and exchange/refund policy;
  • be especially careful when dealing with a private person instead of a registered business (e.g. through a newspaper advertisement or on the internet);
  • shop around to find the best combination of quality and service;
  • ensure you understand the repair procedure during and after the warranty period – don't be afraid to ask, and take an evasive answer as a bad sign;
  • return the product, and demand the situation be remedied, as soon as you discover it is faulty.

Avoiding the hard sell
'It's a once in a lifetime opportunity!' 'This sale price is for today only!' 'This is the last item in stock and I have three buyers for it!' 'Buy now or lose your chance to own this....'

Sound familiar? This is known as the 'hard sell', the way a sales person persuades you to buy something you may not want, or complete the purchase before you have had a chance to properly think about it.

Always:

  • take your time to think about a purchase;
  • ask yourself if you really want or need the item;
  • remember it's your money and you are not under any obligation to spend it!

Door to door sales
Have you found yourself considering a purchase from a sales person who turns up at your door offering an 'amazing' new product that you don't need? Watch out for these sales techniques:

  • pleas that the seller needs the sale to continue to work, leaving you feeling guilty if you turn them away;
  • asking you a series of rapid-fire questions for which the answer is always 'yes' e.g. 'do you have a carpet', 'are you unhappy with the amount of effort it takes to clean it' (most of us find cleaning a chore), 'would you be pleased to find a product that halves the time you spend cleaning the carpet?' (who wouldn't?) etc.;
  • telling you that you need something (e.g. 'I couldn't help noticing that your roof needs painting');
  • a long sales pitch that makes you worry you have wasted the seller's time so you feel obligated to buy something;
  • offering a discount if you buy 'right now'.

Make sure you:

  • get identification from the seller;
  • shop around;
  • know the full cost of the product, including all delivery and handling costs and GST;
  • get independent advice to check any claims that are made (e.g. 'your fence needs a protective coating if you want to make it last another ten years').

Lay-by
A lay-by is an alternative to cash or credit sales, but unlike those methods of payment, you do not receive the goods immediately. Instead you make a deposit and agree to pay the balance of the price by regular instalments. Lay-by can be a handy way to buy goods, but make sure you get a written statement of:

  • the purchase price;
  • the amount you have paid;
  • the outstanding balance;
  • any fees and charges (e.g. cancellation charge);
  • the date by which the each instalment and the final instalment must be paid.

If the retailer attempts to cancel the lay-by without a valid reason (e.g. you missed a payment but you have not been given the opportunity to remedy this with within a stipulated a time period) you should get in touch with your Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading Office.

The retailer may be able to charge a cancellation fee. If you believe you should obtain a full refund, or you want to dispute the cancellation fee, get in touch with your Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading Office.

Loyalty schemes
Loyalty schemes allocate 'points' to consumers who use certain products and service providers (e.g. credit card services, airlines and supermarkets). The points can then be redeemed for 'rewards', including products, discounts and other benefits.

At the bottom line, loyalty schemes are designed to drive repeat business and lock customers into a particular store or service. These schemes are based on a contract between the consumer and the company that sponsors it.

When you sign up to the scheme you are legally bound by its contractual conditions, so it's important to read them, as well as booklets that flag periodic changes. These schemes seem appealing, but it's worth asking, what is the actual return for your loyalty?

For instance, if you have to spend $10,000 to get a $100 reward, you would likely do a lot better to shop around for the best price or use a store that's conveniently located in you area.

For schemes that are attached to a particular credit card, balance the fees for using the credit card against the value of the 'reward'. Make sure you know what fees accrue each time you use your credit cards with reward programs.

Since 2003 the Reserve Bank has allowed merchants to recoup the cost of merchant service fees (the costs charged by banks every time the merchant accepts a credit card payment) directly from consumers who purchased goods or services using a credit card.

Merchants have to disclose these charges, so if your loyalty scheme is tied to a credit card make sure you know the real cost of the transaction. As well, credit card interest rates are very high, so if you miss payments or only pay the minimum repayment, you'll quickly lose the benefit of the loyalty scheme.

Bag searches
You see these signs everywhere – "You must show the contents of your bag if requested". For many of us it has become second habit, we open our shopping bags for inspection as we exit a store or pass through the check-out.

We recognise that shoplifting is a problem for retailers, but in fact you do not have to agree to a bag search.

However, remember that stores are private property, and you can be asked to leave. As well, the owner may refuse to sell you goods, and can of course call the police if they believe you have stolen something.

Last updated - February 2014

The best time to avoid a dispute with a trader is before you make your purchase. Keep the following points in mind: