Bargain hunting Brits could be left out of pocket in the seasonal sales due to common consumer rights myths – such as the mistaken belief that shops have to sell goods at the displayed price.
That’s according to money experts Promotionalcodes.org.uk, who have compiled a list of the biggest misconceptions shoppers have about what they can and can’t demand.
The biggest myth of all is the idea that bricks-and-mortar shops are legally obliged to sell items at the displayed price.
In fact, if the displayed price is a mistake, shops do not have to honour it – though they often will as a goodwill gesture.
This is because in law, a contract – ie, an offer and an acceptance – has not been made until the item is actually paid for.
While this may seem odd, it actually protects shoppers from being bound by an “acceptance” of the offer – and therefore being obliged to purchase – just because they pick an item up or take it to the till.
However, if the shop sold you an item before realising it was mistakenly marked down, you do not have to pay the extra – unless you discussed the price openly with them beforehand.
For online stores, the situation is more complicated and you will need to check the terms and conditions to find out at what point your contract became legally binding.
It may be after you paid for the goods, or after it was sent to you. You will, however, have a 14-day ‘cooling off’ period.
Shoppers are also not legally entitled to return their goods because they don’t like them, and sellers, not couriers, have the legal responsibility to make sure purchases arrive.
Darren Williams of Promotionalcodes.org.uk said: “Now that we’re in the height of sales season and post Christmas returns, it’s especially important that shoppers understand their rights.
“We don’t want people to be left out of pocket because they thought they were entitled to refunds when they weren’t.
“Similarly, we also want people to know when they can demand a refund and how to protect themselves.”
Top consumer myths
“Shops are legally obliged to sell me goods for the displayed price.”
A shop does not have to sell you an item at its displayed price if it is a genuine error, although it is illegal to mislead consumers deliberately.
“My rights are the same for online shopping as in-store.”
They’re actually a bit more complicated, though arguably better. While an in-store contract is made when you have paid, for an online store you may not have your contract until your item has been sent to you. This means you might not have a contract even if you’ve received a confirmation email, and your order could be cancelled if the price was mistaken. You’ll need to check the terms and conditions to see when your contract would begin.
On the plus side, you do legally have a 14-day ‘cooling off’ period for online purchases from businesses (not private individuals), starting from the day you receive the item. This is to enable you to see the product properly before you make up your mind, so you can return it for any reason.
There are exceptions, such as if the goods are bespoke or perishable.
“If I change my mind, I can return the goods within 28 days.”
If there’s nothing wrong with the item and you’ve just decided you don’t like it, you don’t actually have an automatic right to a refund. But most shops have policies for returns and will honour them, even though they don’t legally have to, and will often extend the return period after Christmas. Keep the receipts and original packaging.
The exception is if you’re within the 14-day cooling off period for an online purchase, as above.
Some goods, such as earrings for pierced ears, may not be returnable even under a shop’s policy.
“I need a receipt to return faulty goods.”
No you don’t, though you may need to prove purchase somehow (eg a bank statement). If the item is faulty, not as described or doesn’t work as it’s supposed to, you are entitled to a full refund, unless you knew the item was faulty when you bought it. You also can’t return it if you caused the fault.
“I should hold the postal service responsible for parcels that don’t arrive.”
Don’t. The seller has the legal responsibility to ensure delivery, not the courier. If your item doesn’t arrive within 30 days of purchase, or by a date you agree with the seller, they owe you a replacement or refund.
“My credit card purchases are protected by the card provider.”
Yes – for goods and services costing between £100 and £30,000. Your credit provider will refund you if the firm folds before you get your goods, or if they’re faulty and the business refuses to rectify it. Be careful with things like train tickets, as two single journeys could be classed as two transactions and might not meet the cost threshold individually. (You would also not be covered if you chose not to take the journey.)
There are exceptions to this protection, such as loans and balance transfers.
“I don’t need a gift receipt.”
As we know, shops don’t have to refund you, but probably will if you can prove purchase and the goods are unused. If a shop is prepared to refund or exchange a gift for its recipient, they’ll probably want a gift receipt.