/ Shopping

The big faulty goods fob off

Shopping cartoon

With Christmas just around the corner, you might be shopping for new tech, be it a TV or laptop. Most will come with a one- or two-year warranty, but do retailers know your rights if a fault develops after this?

Did you know that if your tech develops a fault later in life, you might still be able to get the retailer to repair or replace it, even if the warranty has expired?

Under the Sale of Goods Act, goods must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. If you find a fault with your product before it would be reasonably be expected to do so you can claim against the store rather than the manufacturer, even beyond the warranty. And you have six years to take a claim to court for faulty goods in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; in Scotland you have five years.

However, we found some of the biggest UK retailers fobbing off customers by giving incorrect information on their rights.

Going undercover into stores

In our latest undercover investigation, we rigged up a team of mystery shoppers with recording devices to find out what customers are being told by shop staff about their rights.

Our mystery shoppers visited or called popular online and high street retailers on 12 occasions – including the likes of Amazon, Currys, Apple and John Lewis. Our shoppers ask what they should do with a faulty laptop or TV that was bought from that store, but was just out of warranty. You can see what happened in our undercover video:

Do retailers know your rights?

In 56 out of the 72 visits staff gave a clear impression that we didn’t have any rights against the retailer or referred us to the manufacturer. Of the 12 calls made to Amazon, nine were rated very poor by our consumer lawyer, while both John Lewis and Argos had seven visits rated as very poor.

Our investigation found that Amazon, Argos, Euronics and John Lewis could be breaching consumer protection regulations because information given by their staff was misleading. This could leave people out of pocket if they pay to get items repaired themselves when the retailer could be responsible, depending on the circumstances.

Currys and Apple were ranked the highest in our investigation, but both still only received satisfactory ratings for five of the 12 visits on the information we were given. None of the retailers scored an excellent rating.

Have you tried to return a faulty product?

Our latest survey found just one in five people correctly said that the retailer could be responsible for a faulty product after the warranty’s expired. So stores must ensure that their staff are giving the correct information.

We put our findings to the retailers and will be following up our research over the coming months to help ensure you’re consistently getting the correct information from staff.

In the meantime we want to know if you’ve been in a similar situation. Have you ever tried to get a faulty product repaired or replaced by a retailer after the warranty has expired?


Over the years I have spent a lot of time politely arguing with retailers that were either unfamiliar with their responsibilities or did not want to face up to them. I have had successes and failures. It helps to be absolutely clear on your rights and to have a printed copy to hand to support what you say. I have done a bit of impromptu staff training in the local Currys branch. 🙂

I am fed-up with arguments and sometimes just fix things when they fail. My Karcher pressure washer failed when it was less than two years old. Rather than take it back to B&Q I took it apart and sorted out the problem.

Apart from retailers being unwilling to face up to their legal responsibilities, the major weakness is the need to provide an expert’s report to support a claim. That is likely to be expensive, and might bake pursuing a case not economically viable.

My solution is to push manufacturers to provide a decent warranty with their products, for example ten years for a washing machine, TV or other major purchase. A two year guarantee might be appropriate for a phone, because the technology is changing so fast. A guarantee should not cover abuse or very heavy use. For example a washing machine could be guaranteed for ten years or 2000 cycles, which ever comes first. This is analogous to a car warranty of several years or a fixed number of miles.

Some may say that it is ridiculous to expect household goods to last for ten years. It is not if they are well made. If manufacturers are responsible for the cost of repairs, it will not be long before we see a dramatic improvement in build quality. For example, my Karcher pressure washer failed because the manufacturer had chosen to use a piece of bent copper strip rather than a proper microswitch. That may have saved a pound but resulted in a machine that failed after little use and I expect will fail again.

I would be very grateful if Which? would draw attention to the length of the manufacturers’ warranty in test reports and include this in calculating scores and selecting ‘Best Buys’.


I agree this is a major problem. I frequently have to quote Section 48B of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 to errant retailers. Even then, the response continues to be “We won’t pay for any repairs after the warranty has expired” until I make the retailer read the wording of the legislation. I also point out that the warranty is an additional contractual right which does not replace my statutory rights, and that it is irrelevant that this additional contractual right has expired.

The root of this problem appears to be that the contractual rights of retailers upon their upstream suppliers do not mirror the statutory rights of consumers upon retailers. A business-to-business contract can opt the parties out of the Sale of Goods Act, leaving the retailer to foot the bill of any repairs without recompense from the errant manufacturer. For example, my local BMW franchised dealer often refuses to honour my statutory rights after a car’s three-year warranty has expired unless they can persuade BMW to reimburse them, which is a very hit-and-miss procedure.


As other conversations have discussed one of the requirements of the Sales of Goods Act is that products should be durable. Ideally this would best be covered by longer warranties than the normal one or two years, but, like cars, this will require manufacturers and retailers to be persuaded to do this by pressure from their rivals.

In the meantime we should be helped to use the Sale of Goods Act as a weapon more routinely – perhaps by a standard claim form from Which?’s legal team. To use this we would need recognised information on what durability to expect from different types of product, and what contribution to remedy we should expect from the retailer depending on the age of the product.
Some product types will last longer than others, and some brands will be better built than others, but surely from Which?’s extensive experience and that of its fellow organisations in Europe this information could be provided. Maybe consumer pressure would help bring about change.

Perhaps this could be a new campaign?

John, Bristol says:
20 December 2013

I fully agree. How long should a kettle last? Or an MP3 player? These are two items I have argued about in the past with no great success. There has to be a list of acceptable life. But should it be accepted that a cheaper item should have a shorter life than a more expensive item? And if so, how much shorter?


This is a very good point, John, and one that has been made many times in earlier discussions. It has also been suggested that Which? could give us an indication of expected life of different types of appliance when publishing reviews.

Perhaps an mp3 player could be expected to last 3 years. The technology is improving and as small portable devices, they are knocked around a lot. That could also be the lifetime of a built-in battery, though having user-replaceable batteries is a better design.

Though a kettle is often one of the most heavily used items in the home, I believe there is a case for pushing for a 5 year warranty as standard and perhaps up to 10 years on more expensive models.

If you take apart broken appliances and try to find out why they have failed, often it is a cheap part that has failed. Better quality, reliable appliances does not mean that they have to cost a lot more.

J Hargaden says:
19 December 2013

InJan 2010 I bought an Acer laptop from John L:ewis in Cardiff. In November 2012 the finger tip cursor failed so I took it back to the store together with the current issue of Which containing an article outlining customer rights and stores’responsibilities.Just as well for the attitude was that it was 3 years old ‘out of guarantee and was only “a basic level computer anyway”
I pointede out that it cost over £400 and produced the magazine and quoted chapter and verse. The assistant produced a sheaf of papers which appeared to exonerate the store from any responsibilities ,an attiotude whic prevailed until I asked to see the line manager or his superior. .I was told that the machine would work with a mouse and the assistant proved it but I didnot have a mouse and insisted that the machine was faulty. A senior member of staff was summoned and after about 10 minutes argument agreed to have the fault rectified “as a gesture of goodwill” I was surprised by the attitude of John Lewis business attitude for the shopfgloor staff were only implementing guidelines drawn up by Head Office. While such an obdurate attitude prevails there is a definite need for a constant reiteration of customer rights

John, Bristol says:
2 January 2014

Will Asus not accept the email exchanges as proof of purchase?

John, Bristol says:
2 January 2014