/ Shopping

Too many shops are getting your rights wrong

Hand doing thumbs down

What do you do when you return a faulty item to a shop and they say it’s not their problem? Most of us accept it and leave with no resolution. But our investigation found that too many shops are misinforming customers.

A pathetic 16 out of 60 shops managed to clearly inform us that they could be responsible when our undercover shoppers asked for advice about a faulty fridge they’d bought.

We told each shop that a fridge we had bought from them – and which was just out of warranty – had broken. When you buy a product, it should be of satisfactory quality. And so if it develops a fault at a time in its life when this shouldn’t reasonably have happened, the shop could be responsible.

But did staff at these shops manage to tell us this? No. Loads of the shops we tested just didn’t have a clue. And many staff categorically denied we had any rights at all, when this isn’t the case.

We gave the recordings to a lawyer from our Which? Legal services and he only rated nine visits as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ – where we were given an unprompted explanation of when the shop was and wasn’t responsible.

Shoppers fobbed off with excuses

Sometimes, even when staff did say we might have rights we received some baffling explanations of what these were. The included: ‘it’s the European thing’, ‘it’s on a sliding scale’ or ‘you get five years under trading standards’. Hmm.

We tested this at Argos, Comet, Currys, John Lewis and independent shops. And while the shops did vary (Comet had seven visits rated as fair or above, independents just one) the overall picture wasn’t a great one for the shopper.

Is it really too much to ask to expect shops to tell you your rights? Personally, I think retailers should train their staff much better so they have the right knowledge of consumer rights – too many people are being easily fobbed off with these excuses. Have you tried to return something faulty recently?


All this probably shows that you need to be careful where you shop and there will, inevitably, be some people in stores who will get it wrong. That said, can I balance this with two recent experiences that suggest John Lewis, for one, tries hard to get it right. Both concern televisions.

After over four years of owning a small television, one of our relatives returned their TV for repair for the second time. Following a brief examination, the TV was not repaired but replaced under the JL five year guarantee.

We recently upgraded our own TV ahead of the digital switchover. Having used it for a few weeks it became clear that we should have opted for a model with a larger screen to get the best out of the 3D Blu Ray recorder we had also purchased. After contacting their call centre JL offered to:
– exchange the TV for the larger screen model
– arrange to deliver the new TV and collect the old one free of charge
– refund the difference in price between the original TV and its replacement that they volunteered was now on a lower promotional price.

That is what I call customer service.

I look forward to reading this report. I am amazed that 16 out of 60 of the shops surveyed did give useful information. I wonder what would have happened if you had contacted Internet traders. From reading reviews, some of them do not do well at dealing with anything other than sales.

One of the reasons I subscribed to Which? magazine was to learn more about consumers’ rights because I had an insight into the poor quality of electrical and electronic goods being sold, even by supposedly reputable manufacturers.

Many people just replace equipment that has failed after the normal one year guarantee, contributing to the enormous amount of electronics waste to be recycled. Modern equipment is not designed to be serviced, which is disgraceful at a time when it is clear that we all need to be more careful with our use of resources and energy.

I understand the need for retailers and manufacturers to be protected from unfair claims by customers who mistreat their products or use them heavily, but something needs to be done to ensure that the customer can be sure of getting good value for money.

I think the way forward is to encourage manufacturers to include extended warranties in the price of their products. These should be parts & labour warranties that do not have unfair exclusions. The alternative of trying to get all consumers to be aware of their rights and to encourage them to demand their rights is not going to work.

I bought an Advent laptop in October 2008. August 2009 it completely packed up. I return it to PC World and was told to go home and phone the Tech Guys. The laptop was eventually collected & repaired….this happened 3 times. I was then informed that they would extend the warranty to 90 days. After the 90 days the laptop packed up again. By now I was at the end of my tether. They refused to repair it free of charge. and would have cost me more than the laptop was worth. I took the laptop to someone I know repairs computers etc. It has cost me hundreds of pounds and has needed 3 more hard drives! It has just packed up again!! Am I legally entitled then, to return it to the store and demand a full refund or replacement?

jim says:
22 June 2014

Hard drives just dont pack in like your saying, not three now get real, its clearly something you are doing to the machine, and I am sure anyone will tell you the same

mr johnson says:
12 November 2011

i bourght to laptops from dell on line the first one charger broke i emailed them under warranty
they emailed me a phone number to call for a new charger it cost me £29,65 in phone charges

the second lap charger broke but i bourght a brand new charger off ebay the same one dell sent me £6
all in icd postage now the screen has broken on the second lap top 3 days after the warranty ran out
dell dont want to no said not their problem £700 down the drain
dell is the worst company in the world

It is NOT only shops. A certain big 4×4 British manufacturer has reneged on its 12 mionth warranty after a certain major component was not fit for purpose, after 2.000 miles. That is the trouble when the foreigners by up UK companies!

Mr Rabot says:
16 November 2011

I bought a Roberts Clock radio, costing £80.00, from Comet on the 3rd of nov. 2010 and it stopped working on the 10th of Nov. 2011. I returned to the store in Crayford but they said it was not company policy to look at anything of this type of product over a year old and referred me to the manufacturer. I e-mailed Customer Services, and was resonded to by Matthew Waller whom said that “When a customer reports a problem with this particular item under the 12 month manufacturers guarantee, as we are unable to offer a repair service, on confirmation of a fault a suitable replacement would be issued.Whilst I also note your comments regarding the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended), as your clock radio has worked for 12 months without fault, we would deem it to be fit for purpose and durable when sold. I am therefore unable to agree to your request for a refund or exchange to be issued, for which I apologise.”

I do not agree but feel it would need a court to decide on his judgement as he has never looked at the radio and neither has the store. Presumeably Comet expect their products only to last for a year.

I am not surprised by your story Mr Rabot, but Currys refused to a deal with my faulty vacuum cleaner when it was less than a year old! They insisted that I should contact Miele, despite the fact that I explained that my contract was with Currys and not with the manufacturer.

I phoned Miele, the manufacturer, with the intention of asking them to get Currys to face up to their responsibilities, but they offered to send replacement parts without inspecting the cleaner.

Maybe the Which? advice on taking companies to court will prove more successful than reciting the Sale of Goods Act to their employees.

Hi Mr Rabot – sorry to hear your story. As Wavechange says, we have some useful guides that might help you on the main Which? site. Taking a dispute to the small claims court explains the process and gives a sample letter to get things rolling. But it does warn that court action should be your last resort – there might be some good advice in our guide on returning goods that you could consider before getting to that stage. Good luck!

The story doesn’t surprise me either. My experience of retailers’ knowledge of the law is that it is limited. Recently, my dishwasher of under a year old stopped working. Homebase tried to repair it on 3 separate occasions and failed each time. Despite this, the regional manager refused to allow a replacement as “it wasn’t warranted” and the fault was probably only a “loose wire”. Only after resorting to naming and shaming on twitter did I manage to get any decent customer service, although my replacement dishwasher is yet to be installed. Shops are far too quick to take your money and then fail to deal with problems.

I have a faulty iron which is 18 months old purchased from Argos. Argos want an independant report before accepting responsibility. This was a £60 iron on special offer at £30. It is not worth paying for a report – and they know this. Irons should last longer than this but this is a throw away age so I suppose I will just have to buy a new one.

Mr Laverty says:
24 November 2011

Can I speak about Amazon in this category. I recently purchased Anti-virus software from Amazon. When I recieved it, the serial number on the instruction booklet(contained within the box) was illegible. Thsi rendered the software unusable. I returned it to Amazon to be told that because the package had been opened it could not accept the returned items and I should refer to the software manufacturer. They tell me the they are only a technical support team and refer me back to Amazon. Where do I go now?

Your contract is with the retailer and not the manufacturer, so Amazon should deal with the problem. Essentially the software is ‘not of merchantable quality’. Look for information about the Sale of Goods Act on the Which? site.

The best approach is always to contact the retailer and explain the problem. Generally they will issue a returns authorisation number and may provide free return, for example via a Freepost address or collection from your home. With small items you may receive a replacement without the need to return the product and if you offer to send a photo of the illegible serial number that could help.

I have never returned anything to Amazon but they seem to have a simple procedure involving printing a return label. See:

Best of luck.

Scott says:
26 January 2012

Why have Tesco changed the law?

I tried to returned faulty electrical goods to Tesco less than 6 months old and was fobbed off to the manufacturer.

I asked for a repair and was refused, I asked for replacement (they had more than 10 in store) and was refused, and I asked for a refund and was refused.

The law says less than six months old return to store, Tesco have changed the law to 28 days.

Scott – Tesco does not have to replace the product but since they are not prepared to offer a repair either, they are in breach of the law. See the link to the Which? website in my message further down the page.

Scott says:
10 April 2013


You are wrong,
Under the Sale of Goods Act, the retailer must either repair or replace the goods ‘within a reasonable time but without causing significant inconvenience’.

Tesco are wrong I was never offered a repair or replacement, they are breaking the law.
The product broke within 3 months the law says 6 months.

•If the fault appears in the first six months, you are entitled to a repair or a replacement.

They refusesd to repair or replace the product they are breaking the law.

Anyway I played them at their own game???

I’m not sure how I’m wrong because I have said they are breaking the law.

Scott says:
10 April 2013

What you should have said – Tesco have to repair or replace the product…..
I was offered neither!
I could change what you said to,
Tesco does not have to REPAIR the product but since they are not prepared to offer a REPLACEMENT either, they are in breach of the law.

I referred you to the Which? website, which has excellent information.

I find your comment a bit rude, when I have tried to be helpful.

Scott says:
10 April 2013

The law states – Repair, Replacement or Refund and I was refused all 3, now that is what I call rude.

You ask me to explain why I thought you were wrong, and I did, that’s not being rude!

r shapland says:
25 March 2012

my L G USA style went phut the plastic broke the interior all buckled it also fill up with ice being a self defrost it went phut but they did replace it but the replacement has started. pump seized up but Curry would NOT let me have a different make also told me lies I was informed the it was a cold mains . but guess wat no no

r shapland says:
25 March 2012

try Seiko my watch £175 to repair after 2 years £170 this was a kinetic any suggestions

r shapland says:
25 March 2012

Kodiak printer goes hay wire want a replacement no you can have a recon no i want mine repaired so i put a secret mark on printer printer returned not mine so i quote merchantable quality got money back but i bought a more modern kodiak every thing ok sofar

michael hornby says:
29 June 2012

at 12pm 29th June 2012. we purchase poundland own band bleach..
the product was place under a buggy.. on top of a coat where the product has leaked and caused damage to said coat..
we spoke to the shop (andover store) and was told nothing could be done..
which breaks Product Liability laws ect ect ..
we where told to ring head office..
which was not much use and was fobbed off, with not our problem..
so you been warned that pound land contain harmful substances that have the potential to cause accidents and injuries..

if this some how got into the hand of a small child or baby and the cap leaked like our did.. then i don’t even want to think about it…

so pass this warning on to anyone who shop there and has small kids thanks mike

BeeksJay says:
22 August 2012

I recently purchased a tablet from a trader via the Amazon website.

After only a handful of uses, we came to charge the product to find that the plug adapter did not work. Having tried the USB adapter plugged into a laptop, we found that the battery would only charge to 37% and switched off as soon as you unplugged it from the laptop.

Per the Amazon policy, I contacted the trader direct (this was within 30 days of receiving the product which I regard as a ‘reasonable’ timeframe) to report the fault. Initially they refused my request for a full refund (due to their own 7 day returns policy) but subsequently agreed after I referred them to some DSR and SOGA extracts.

In accordance with this statute, I also requested that the costs associated with returning the item (approx £10-£15 for international tracked via Royal Mail) be refunded also, which they refused.

I then contacted Amazon advising them that as the item was faulty, the Seller should be responsible for return costs (as had the item not been faulty, I wouldn’t have incurred them). Amazon claim that under their ‘Participation Agreement’, Sellers are not obliged to refund postage on faulty items. They will therefore neither support my claim nor reimburse me themselves.

I should add that Amazon’s own returns policy does include reimbursement of postage on faulty items.

What do I do? My understanding is that if T&Cs do not comply with statute, they are unlawful. I’m surprised that Amazon take this stance – everything I’ve read about their direct returns policy is positive.

I suggest that you have another go, on the basis that you have received a refund for the goods but not a full refund of what you paid. They could argue that you have had some use out of the tablet.

The only way to be sure of avoiding this problem in future is to get the company to issue a prepaid label by post or email. Some companies issue a Returns Authorisation Number and have a Freepost address for returns. For larger items, some companies arrange collection and then the problem is arranging to be in when the call.

I have never had a problem with any products ordered through Amazon but I do no they won’t refund postage.

Best of luck!

Gail Whitaker says:
28 August 2012

I purchased a Bosch Generator Iron eighteen months ago from Argos through the Argos Direct service. It cost me £229 pounds. (Yes I know who would pay that much for an iron!! I actually enjoy ironing) At the weekend the water stopped heating and coming to pressure. As it has a two year manufacturers warranty I drove 35 miles to my nearest Argos to ask them to please send it under warranty to Bosch for repair. I was asked had I purchase one of their “replacement insurances” which cost £74.99 at the time I bought it. No I hadn’t because it had a two year warranty with it. They were simply not interested. Send it to Bosch was their answer. I stated that I hadn’t bought it from Bosch I bought it from Argos and therefore my contract was with them. Oh we dont deal with anything except a years warranty or if you have a replacement “insurance” was their attitude. As far as the management was concerned I could stand there all day as they were not for budging!!! Is this now the way customers are treated now at Argos. You spend a large amount of money expecting quality and a semblance of customer care and they try to blackmail you in to spending more money “just in case” it goes wrong!! I was always under the impression you had six years to make a claim on faulty purchases? Why do manufacturers bother with extended warranties? Was that extra feature not a selling point when the small electrical buyer from Argos was on a buying mission for the twice yearly catalogue? Who is right here? Do I have to wrap and post my faulty iron to Bosch myself or are Argos trying a cop out?

I bought a Bush Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner.Was £70 gone down to £40 when I bought it.It stopped working 2 days after the guarantee ran out .Power will not come on at all.Argos don’t want to know apart from making me pay for a report ,which I cannot afford to do! What do I do next?

Argos now want me to pay £40 for a report to prove it doesnt work!!!! The cleaner only cost that? Any ideas what I can do please???

Debbie says:
26 September 2012

I have just recently purchased a pair of vans shoes from Schuh. One of the shoes began to fall apart after only wearing them only twice. The shop would not refund/exchange as they say I caused the fault by them being immersed in water. I was told I needed to return them by post for them to inspect. They then returned them, again saying that they had been saturated, and this caused the fault. Iam so incensed as the shoes did not at any time come into contact with water, but it seems they can so easily evade their obligations. I am fully prepared as a matter of principle to have the shoes independently inspected, (as i’m dubious as to how independent their inspection was) but don’t know who I could get to do this. I have tried a company called Satra but they no longer do this service for the public consumer. I would be most grateful for any suggestions. Thanks.