You've just bought a new phone, taken it home, and the camera doesn't work. You take it back to the store, ask for a refund, and are told that you can only have store credit.
What can you do?
New Zealand has fairly robust consumer protections through a variety of legislation including the Fair Trading Act 1986 and the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017.
One piece of legislation that is particularly useful for private consumers is the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 ("the Act").
It helps to protect consumers by imposing certain minimum standards on sellers as well as outlining consumer entitlements when there is a problem with goods purchased.
The Act covers goods purchased for domestic, household and personal use. If you are buying products for business use, you won't have the same protections under the Act (though you may be covered by other legislation).
The Act also only applies to products you buy from someone "in trade", so if you buy goods from a private seller, you won't be covered.
If you buy something, the Act says that the seller is warranting (among other things) that it is of acceptable quality, fit for its intended purpose, matches the advertised description or sample model, and reasonably priced.
What constitutes acceptable quality will differ between products. For example a $40 watch likely won't have the same quality standards as a $400 smart watch.
Acceptable quality is the quality that a reasonable consumer with full knowledge of the condition of the goods would consider acceptable.
Ask yourself: would I have bought this item if I knew it was faulty? If the answer is no, the item might not meet the acceptable quality standard.
If you've bought something, and it doesn't meet one of the seller warranties, you can take it back to the seller and ask them to fix the problem at their cost.
Depending on the store, they might chose to repair the item, replace it, or refund you the purchase price.
If the seller can't or won't fix the problem, you can either ask for a refund or replacement, or you can have the problem repaired somewhere else and claim the reasonable costs of the repair from the seller.
If the problem is substantial, or can't be fixed, you can ask for a refund or replacement, or you can chose to keep the goods and claim compensation for the reduction in the value of the goods.
That's not to say you are always entitled to a refund. You can't get a refund if you change your mind about an item, if the fault or damage to the item is the result of your own actions, or because the item is now offered at a cheaper price (ie, you can't get a refund of the extra that you paid before the item went on sale).
Some sellers might allow you to return or refund an item if you change your mind, but they aren't required to under the Act.
If you have any issue with an item you have purchased, you should first try to resolve the issue with the seller.
If you can't reach a resolution, and you consider that the seller has breached its obligations under the Act, you may be able to make a claim with the Disputes Tribunal or through the courts, depending on the financial level of the claim. For claims of $15,000 or more, you may wish to seek legal advice first.
If you have any questions about your consumer rights, you can contact the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Consumer Protection, or talk to your lawyer.
Even if you aren't covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act, you may be covered under another piece of legislation.
- Phillippa Childs, solicitor