When can a consumer return goods under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) in South Africa? There are a number of sections in the Consumer Protection Act that allow goods to be returned, but it is important to note that there is no general right of return. For example, when a consumer buys an item from a store and the next day they regret spending so much money, or simply do not like the item, the consumer cannot return the item simply because they have had a change of heart. Some retailers do allow consumers to do this, but it is not a consumer’s legal right to do so. A change of heart is not a legal reason to return an item.

There is no general right of return

There are very limited circumstances (which we discuss below) where a consumer can return an item. However in these cases, even if the law is on the consumer’s side, the supplier can simply refuse to give you your money back, leaving you arguing with a brick wall.

We can’t help consumers

Unfortunately, we can’t help you if you are a consumer in need of protection. But we can point you in the right direction to resolve your complaint.

How we can help suppliers

  • If you are a supplier of goods, we can provide you with a returns policy that is in line with the CPA. Or we can review your existing returns policy to make sure that it is in line with the CPA.
  • If you are an online store or retailer, we can provide you with legal notices. We also provide free website terms that are suitable for some online stores.
  • If you are a supplier, we can help you comply with the Consumer Protection Act in South Africa.

Interested?

If you are interested, please complete the form on the right or enquire now. We will contact you to find out more about your requirements and give you a quote.

When a consumer can return goods under the CPA

Generally speaking, there are only four instances when a consumer can return goods under the CPA.

1)  The direct marketing “cooling-off” period

In terms of s16 of the CPA, if a consumer has bought goods as a result of direct marketing, then for a period of 5 days after receiving the goods, the consumer can:

  • return the goods,
  • cancel the entire contract without penalty, and
  • receive a full refund.

The consumer will have to pay the costs to return the goods.

2) Goods which have not been seen before purchase

In terms of s20 (read with s19) of the CPA, if a consumer has not had the opportunity to examine or inspect the actual goods received before purchase, they are entitled to inspect the goods on delivery. If on this initial inspection they find that:

  • the goods do not meet the ‘type’ or ‘quality’ they could reasonably expect from the agreement; or
  • if the goods where made in terms of a special or ‘custom’ order, and they goods do not reasonably conform to the specifications of the order,

then:

  • the consumer can refuse delivery,
  • receive a full refund, and
  • the consumer can cancel without penalty.

The supplier will have to pay the costs to return the goods.

3) Goods do not meet a particular purpose

In terms of s55(3) (read with s20) of the CPA, if a consumer informs a supplier that the goods are being bought to fulfill a particular purpose, and the supplier advises that the goods will meet this particular purpose then:

  • 10 days after receiving the goods,
  • the consumer can return the goods if it is not suitable for the particular purpose, and
  • the consumer can cancel without penalty.

The supplier will have to pay the costs to return the goods.

It is important to note that despite the above, the consumer is not entitled to return goods for any of the above reasons (1)-(3)  if:

  • regulation prohibits the return of those goods to a supplier once they have been supplied to a consumer (for reasons of public health or public), or
  • after having been supplied to a consumer, the goods have been partially or entirely disassembled, altered, added or combined with other goods or property.

4) Implied warranty of quality

In terms of s56 (read with s55) of the CPA, all goods sold to a consumer are sold with an implied warranty of quality, that cannot be contracted out of or revoked. The warranty gives the consumer the right to receive goods that:

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

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

  • return the goods, or
  • get the goods replaced, or
  • get the goods repaired.

The consumer can do any of these things without penalty and at the suppliers cost. A general ‘voetstoots‘ clause will be insufficient.

However, a consumer will not be able to return the goods because it was defective or not suitable for the purpose if:

  • the consumer was made aware of the specific defects, and
  • the consumer agreed to receive the goods in that condition.

A general ‘voetstoots’ clause will be insufficient to get out of the s56 warranty, because you have to mention the specific defects.

A word on ‘refunds’

In-store vouchers or credits are not illegal per se

Wherever the CPA entitles a consumer to a refund, it must be interpreted to mean that the consumer has the election on how to receive the refund. This means that while refunds as in-store vouchers or credits are not illegal per se, if the consumer demands a cash refund the supplier must give it to them. Also in terms of s56, the consumer (not the supplier) can decide whether to chose the refund, replacement or repair.

The ECT Act and returns

The ECT Act has its own consumer protection provisions, some of which will trump the CPA

If you sell or buy goods online, there are some extra things to consider. Most importantly the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECT Act) will apply to the transaction. The ECT Act has its own consumer protection provisions, some of which will trump the CPA. Specifically, the reasons (1)-(3) for returns listed above do not apply if the ECT Act’s provisions apply to the transaction. Instead of these rights of return, consumers have;

  • a general right to return (a “cooling off period”);
  • for seven days after delivery;
  • for any reason;
  • without penalty; but
  • the consumer must pay the costs to return the goods.

Since the ECT Act has been around since 2002,  if you have an online store, your returns policies should already be in line with these provisions.

Refund policies

If you are a supplier of goods, one of the most important things you can do is make sure that your returns or refund policy is in line with the CPA. A good returns policy coupled with excellent customer services will be essential to avoid complaints to the National Consumer Commissioner.