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  • Writer's pictureGraham Henrickson

Online Retailers Defy Consumer Law

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

‘We stand behind the products we sell.’ Printed on every from of advertising by a chain of home appliance stores called Chandlers, this promise convinced consumers they could be trusted above their competitors. In truth, all retailers are required to stand behind the products they sell, and this is enshrined in Australian consumer law. Sadly, Chandlers are no longer in business and this legal obligation is being ignored by a new type of retailer.

Once upon a time, shopping was a face-to-face experience that involved visiting a store where you could see, feel, and if necessary, try before you buy. If what you bought was faulty or failed to meet your expectations, you simply returned to where you bought it from. Provided you kept the receipt, and your complaint was legitimate you could expect the matter to be resolved without much trouble - a replacement, a credit, your money back or they might offer to have it repaired free of charge. But whatever the solution, it was and the retailer’s responsibility to make the decision.

Now, for the record – nothing has changed.

The internet brought us ‘online shopping’ and with the Covid-19 pandemic online sales are booming. Unable to inspect or try before you buy, consumers are left to rely on visual images, brand reputation, a recommendation, and a good deal of trust. Unfortunately, this explosion in online shopping has seen the emergence of a new low-cost business model; one without a ‘bricks and mortar’ store, or proper business premises. These are retailers that only sell online. They typically operate from home or a tiny hole in the wall office, they employ no sales staff and carry no inventory. They use their website like a shop window to sell products they source from 3rd parties (sometimes referred to as a ‘marketplace’). Although you buy from them and pay them for the goods, your purchase order is passed on to a 3rd party supplier who then ships the goods to you.

Although the way we shop may have changed, our rights and protections under Australian consumer law have not. But unfortunately, most consumers only have a vague understanding of their legal rights; something these operators rely on when dealing with product complaints. Rather than resolve the complaint as required by law, they distance themselves and instruct the customer to communicate directly with the 3rd party supplier.

Do not be fooled by this tactic.

The Trade Practices Act applies unilaterally and surpasses any terms and conditions of sale even if published. It does not matter if an item was purchased from a physical store or online; if you are dissatisfied with the product, then responsibility to assess and resolve the complaint rests with the seller (retailer) and not their supplier. How the retailer is compensated for the decision they make in regards to your complaint is up to them to sort out with the supplier.

So, if you have a product complaint, raise it with the retailer regardless of it being a physical store or an online store. They are responsible for resolving the matter and if they attempt to pass you off to a 3rd party, then stand your ground. If necessary, contact the Department of Fair Trading in your State. This will not guarantee the remedy you want, but it does ensure they are held to account. Also, if you are offered a solution by the retailer that is unsatisfactory, then again you should contact the Department of Fair Trading in your State.

Good retailers invest time and effort in selecting the products they offer for sale. They require their suppliers to meet strict quality control standards and have agreements in place to deal with faulty goods.

Like it or not – all retailers must stand behind the products they sell, and the law requires them to do so.

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