Saturday, June 29, 2013

Refunds, Replacements & Exchanges: What to do with faulty cosmetics

The Australian law can feel at times to be shady in the cosmetics department and there's a lot of ambiguity when it comes to refunding makeup. We've all been guilty of being in awe of the lax American return policies too but today I'm hoping to bring a little hope for us Aussie makeup lovers who have ever been disappointed by unlived claims.

Why is the industry this way?
Ever been afraid to ask for a refund on a cosmetics product? 
You're not alone! Cosmetics are a personal care item and it is often implied or stated that these items are not returnable after being used. The implications are that the consumer unwittingly believes that they are not entitled to any refunds whatsoever for "health and safety reasons".

The Facts: What YOU need to know!
The following are laws that are relevant to buying cosmetics and some will surprise you!
Above: Get the appropriate facts on your state's Fair Trading website!
  • ALL goods and services for personal use bought from a business are protected under the Consumer Guarantees Law including cosmetics. So if you bought that lipstick at a retail store to use for yourself and not for business purposes you are automatically protected.
  • There is no such thing as "No Returns" and having a sign like that in a shop is illegal. However stores have the right to make their own policies for change of mind returns only (such as "return within 14 days in original condition").

Part A: You can go back to the retailer for a refund/replacement/repair under these reasons:
  1. The product is faulty (the most common reason) AND
  2. The fault occurred in a period of time that would have reasonably be seen to be working. E.g. A product has a 24M symbol for the life of the product after opening but the product no longer works after 6 months from purchase. Or you bought a lipstick and after 2 weeks of use the barrel breaks.
  3. The item was sold to you by the business for a specific purpose or the product is described with certain claims but those purposes or claims were not fulfilled when you tried the product after you bought it. E.g. You ask a sales assisstant for a foundation that will last on your skin for 10 hours. The sales assistant suggests a foundation that will last 10 hours but when you tried it after you bought it, it melts in 3 hours. You have a right to 'reject' the product because it did not fulfill what the sales assistant assured you of (on top of any other claims the actual product made).
Part B: You can't go back to the retailer when:
  1. The fault was of your own doing. E.g. You drop a glass bottle and it breaks from a height. However if the product breaks from e.g. light wear then it goes under Part A, rule 2.
  2. The product was NOT bought for personal use. E.g. You bought it for your makeup artistry business (especially if when before buying the product the seller makes it known to you that it's a business buy). If you bought this for yourself as well you may be able to claim personal use but remember that the product must not work for you, you may have to prove you've bought it in your name and that you may have to give up your product for a refund (meaning that if you intended to keep it for your clients you may not get a refund).  
  3. You bought it at a one off private seller. E.g. A garage sale or a school fete. If a company does not represent themselves in a commercial way like with business cards and sales assistants it may be hard to prove that the seller is a commercial seller at these types of events. However I would consider conventions and markets as commercial as they usually have a ABN (Australian Business Number) and intend to make a PROFIT.
  4. Too much time has passed (the fault is reasonably expected to occur). E.g. A product has a 12M symbol and it became faulty after 12 months of using it.
 Above: A commercial store at a convention (Source)

What do I need and what should I know if I want to get a refund/replacement/repair?
  1. The most important thing is to have a 'proof of purchase'. This usually means a receipt from the seller. If you don't have one sometimes it's possible to ask the store to find their copy for you but if you don't have your name on it, a credit card number or some sort of identity proof it might not be possible to prove that you made that purchase.
  2. If you have purchased an item with Warranty the manufacturer and sometimes the supplier (usually a store) will have had voluntarily agreed to cover the product under certain conditions during a specific period of time. However even so the Part A, Rule 2 still applies so if something that isn't covered by warranty breaks before it should you still have a right to go back to the seller.
  3. You may be able to claim 'Consequential Loss'. It means that if the faulty product directly leads to other consequences that did not exist before the faulty product was used then you could claim compensation for the damage done. E.g. A hair colour claims not to stain your clothes and you used as directed but it still stained your clothes, you could claim money to replace that piece of clothing.
  4. Usually it's the state where you bought the item in which the law applies. Luckily nearly all the laws concerning cosmetic items are the same in the whole of Australia, Queensland being the main exception. So if they sold the item to you in NSW expect the NSW laws to apply.
  5. There are no specific laws that apply for cosmetics only! In fact nearly everything written here applies to any goods bought in Australia.
  6. Know the law before you walk into a store! It's important to be a mindful consumer and see the traps that some products might get you in. If it's too good to be true it probably is! Something's too cheap? Or it's a previously used item? Avoid handing over the money because any time and money you do waste on the quest for a refund may be your burden.
  When can I get a refund?
While it's easy to assume that you can get your money back for a faulty product it's actually not that clear cut. 

I can choose to get a refund if:
  1. The product has a major failure that can't be fixed easily. E.g. An epilator short circuited and killed the internal mechanics.
  2. The product is faulty but cannot be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. E.g. The manufacturer no longer operates, or they don't have the parts to fix the product and/or the product will take several months to fix. 
When I mean you can choose to get a refund I also mean that you can choose the course of action to take from the following:
  1. Get a refund. You get the exact money back that you paid for the item usually in exchange for the faulty product. 
  2. Get a replacement. Either the same item or a similar item of similar value.
  3. Keep the goods and get compensated for the drop of value caused by the problem.
 I can't choose to get a refund if:
  1. The product has a minor failure.
  2. The product can be fixed in a reasonable amount of time.
This means that the supplier has the right to choose the course of action to resolve the problem.
You may be asked to send the item back and unless it costs a significant amount you will have to foot the bill.

 So now that you have this faulty product what do you do?
  1. First thing is always communicate with the seller about your faulty product. A lot of the time a seller will be willing to give you a refund or replacement if there is a clear and indisputable product fault that the store/product is responsible for. Bring your proof of purchase if possible.
  2. If you turn up in person and the salesperson doesn't grant your wish then try to find a higher power like a store manager to talk to as they are usually more knowledgeable about consumer law. Put your demands in writing if needed with a copy for yourself to keep and make sure to state CLEARLY: what the problem is, what you want in return and what the law indicates you have a right to.
  3. If turning up in person doesn't work or it's not possible for you emailing is the best way to get a response because emails are proof of ongoing communication (phone if you want to confront the sellers but back it up with follow up emails if possible). Make sure you have dates and numbers handy. Be clear with what you want and always be courteous (it can easily sound rude online without body language).
  4. If all attempts fail and they don't agree to a refund/replacement/repair or they ignore you then it's time to go to Fair Trading to start dialogue in a three way fashion. Go online and "Lodge a General Complaint". You will have to supply information like dates, information about the seller, what the fault is, what you want in return, etc. This is a completely free resource online and they will email you a case number within days and after 2-4 weeks they usually report back with their findings. Between this period the seller may or may not contact you to sort the problem out. While it is reported that 85% of disputes get resolved the crutch is that Fair Trading has no legal powers to make anyone do anything; rather they help negotiate and bring the matter to attention.
  5. The last port of call when you happen to be the 15% that don't get a resolution is going to Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT). It's like a court and it costs from $37. Sometimes it's a bitter pill to swallow because you have to consider that you may lose more than you gain but when especially dealing with dodgy dealers it may be important to you to make a stand in case others get affected the same way. You need to make an application to CTTT or Fair Trading in person or online. Make sure to bring all copies of evidence like receipts, photos of the fault, invoices from repairs for 'Consequential Loss' and emails and other communications. You will have to attend a hearing and if you win the tribunal has legal powers to enforce the seller to resolve the matter as ruled by the tribunal.
  6. Optional: Sometimes you can go to the police if you feel there is a criminal matter involved. If you've been scammed, defrauded, physically hurt due to the sellers themselves file an incident report. Sometimes you may not be able to if you leave the matter too late and the earlier you file it the better memory of events you'll have. This may be further evidence that you can use in the tribunal.
  7. Optional: Take to social media. It sometimes brings the matter to the attention of the seller and applies pressure on them to help resolve the matter. Make sure you do it for the right reasons!
 Above: The Consumer, Trader & Tenancy Tribunal is the last resort!
 
A note about Overseas buying:
While the world may be connected by vast communication technologies be wary of the legal divide. Most first world countries have similar laws to Australia but the key thing is that they're more likely to uphold those laws. Try and get to know them because it can aid your case!
E.g. In Great Britain there is a particular law that (I'm paraphrasing here) says that a seller who willingly sells to an overseas buyer is responsible for any shipping costs that may occur in retrieving the product back in exchange for a monetary refund.
Conversely the law in Australia is supposed to give Australian buyers the right to a refund from overseas sellers.
Bear in mind that if you buy from some countries laws may not be upheld and may be informally regulated by sellers themselves. E.g. You buy a brush from China and it breaks and you ask for a refund. Although you provide proof of fault and purchase the seller may still refuse to give you a refund or may decide themselves a course of action.

Disclaimer: I do not speak for the law and write only based on my interpretation of Fair Trading and Consumer Law in Australia only, and my experience as a consumer. This only applies to goods for personal use, not services and business law. This post doesn't account for any changes in the future to the law from the time this post is published. I give my advice and opinion in earnest so use my advice at your caution.

So there you have it! A guide to the law, your rights and what you can do in the shifty world of cosmetics! What are your thoughts on this? Is there a bad experience you've had in the past? How does your part of the world compare to Australia?
Love Porcelaine.

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