When Can A Customer Return Goods Under the Consumer Protection Act?

The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) relates specifically to South Africa.

South African consumers are one of the most protected consumers in the world, and if you are a supplier this is not great news for you but does not need to be your downfall if you manage it properly.

General right of return

It is important to note from the onset that whilst the Consumer Protection Act allows goods to be returns, there is no general right of return.  What this means is that if a customer purchases and item and then decides they simple do not like it or are having regrets spending their money, the customer cannot simply return it because they has a “change of heart” and that is not a legal reason.

So when can a consumer return items?

There are 4 instances when a customer can return items under the Consumer Protection Act of South Africa:

Direct marketing cooling-off period.

According to Section 16 of the Consumer Protection Act, if a customer buys an item as a result of direct marketing, then for a period of 5 days after receiving the item the customer can do the following:

  • Return the goods.
  • Cancel the entire contract without penalty (if applicable).
  • Receive a full refund.

The customer however must submit a notification of return or cancellation within the 5 days, and it needs to be in writing and delivered to the supplier by hand, fax, email or registered mail.

The supplier has 15 days from receiving the notice of termination (if contract) or receiving the returned items, to refund the customer.

It is important to note that the supplier is not without some protection here:

  • The customer will be liable for the cost of returning the items to the supplier.
  • The supplier may charge for the use of goods if the goods sold have been used.
  • The supplier may charge for restoration costs, such as if the item or packaging has been damaged.

Definition of Direct Marketing: 

  • Where a supplier, either in person, by post, or electronically communicates with a person for the purpose of advertising their goods for sales, services available, or to request a donation.
  • A person can be approached electronically by means of telephone, fax, email, sms, wireless computer access, or any other form of technology.

Goods not seen before purchase

According to Section 20 of the Consumer Protection Act, if a customer has not had the opportunity to examine or inspect the actual goods received before purchased, they are entitled to inspect the goods on delivery.

If on this inspection they find any of the following:

  • The goods do not meet the type or quantity they could reasonably expect from the agreement, or
  • If the goods where made in terms of a special or custom order, and the goods do not reasonably conform to the specification supplied by the customer upon order.

Then the customer has the following rights:

  • The customer can refuse delivery,
  • Receive a full refund,
  • And cancel the order or contract without penalty.

The customer however must submit a notification of return or cancellation within the 5 days, and it needs to be in writing and delivered to the supplier by hand, fax, email or registered mail.

The supplier has 15 days from receiving the notice of termination (if contract) or receiving the returned items, to refund the customer.

The following conditions apply to the return of the items;

  • The supplier will be liable for the cost of returning the items.
  • The supplier may charge for the use of items if the items sold have been used.
  • The supplier may charge for restoration costs, such as if the item or packaging has been damaged.

Goods do not meet a particular purpose

According to Section 55(3) of the Consumer Protection Act, if a customer informs a supplier that the items are being bought to fulfill a particular purpose and the supplier advises that it will meet that particular purpose, then within 10 days of receiving the goods the customer may:

  • Return the items if not suitable for the purpose they specified.
  • Cancel the contract without any fear of penalty.

The customer however must submit a notification of return or cancellation within the 5 days, and it needs to be in writing and delivered to the supplier by hand, fax, email or registered mail.

The supplier has 15 days from receiving the notice of termination (if contract) or receiving the returned items, to refund the customer.

The following conditions apply to the return of the items;

  • The supplier will be liable for the cost of returning the items.
  • The supplier may charge for the use of goods if the goods sold have been used.
  • The supplier may charge for restoration costs, such as if the item or packaging has been damaged.

Despite the above, the customer is not entitled to return the items if:

  • Regulation prohibits the return of the items to a supplier once they have been supplied to a customer for reason of public health or safety.
  • After having been delivered to the customer, the items have been partially or entirely disassembled, altered, added or combined with any others items or property.

Implied warranty of quality

According to Section 56 of the Consumer Protection Act, all items sold to a customer are sold with an implied warranty of quality that cannot be contracted out of or revoked by the supplier.

The warranty gives the customer the right to receive goods that:

  • Are reasonably suited for the purpose that they are intended to be used for.
  • Are of good quality, free of defects, and in good working order.
  • Are durable and usable for a reasonable period of time.

If any items are found not to comply with these requirements, then for up to 6 months after receiving the goods, the consumer can:

  • Return the goods.
  • Get the items replaced.
  • Get the items repaired.

However, the customer will not be able to return the items because it was defective or not suitable for the purpose intended if:

  • The customer was made aware of the specific defects (each defect needs to be specified)
  • The customer agreed to receive the items in the condition specified.

It is important to note that the Consumer Protection Act does not recognise “voetstoots” clauses in agreements and are therefore considered void.

The following conditions apply to the return of the items;

  • The supplier will be liable for the cost of returning the items.
  • The supplier will be liable for the cost of repair and shipping back to customer.
  • The supplier will be liable for the cost of replacement and shipping back to customer.

Refunds, Replacements, and Repairs in terms of the Consumer Protection Act

Refunds according to the Consumer Protection Act means that the customer must have the choice on how to receive any refund due to him/her.

A supplier may not force a refund to be a in-store voucher or credit to the value of the return.  If the customer requests a cash refund the supplier is required by law to give the customer a cash refund.

It is also important to note that the customer has the choice of a refund, repair or replacement, and unless otherwise specified in the Consumer Protection Act, the supplier is required by law to follow the instructions of the customer.

Online Sales

If you are selling items online, you need to take note that there are a few extra things you need to be aware of, such as the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECT Act) applying to any online transaction.

The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act has its own consumer protection provisions.  It is important to note that the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act supersedes any provisions made in the Consumer Protection Act.

The provisions that you should take especially note of is that the following terms applying to the return of goods:

  • A general right to return items.
  • Have up to 7 days after delivery to notify the supplier.
  • Can return for any reason.
  • Any returns or cancellations are without penalty.
  • The customer is liable for the cost of returning the goods to the supplier.

These amendments apply directly to the following sections in the Consumer Protection Act:

  • Direct marketing cooling-off period – Section 16
  • Goods not seen before purchase – Section 20
  • Goods do not meet a particular purpose – Section 55(3)
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Refund Policies

If you are a South African business, it is important that your Refund Policy is in line with the regulations as specified in the Consumer Protection Act and Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (if an online business).

What if I am unsure of what to do?

If you are unsure of anything, you are welcome to contact us and we will assist you if and where we can with advice.

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