The New Year brings with it the popular January sales. During this time, most sellers, both online and in-store, start promoting new discounts and offers to get shoppers to spend more money.

When consumers buy products at a lower price, they feel they are getting more for their money, and this prospect encourages them to buy more during the sales. This can unfortunately lead to reckless spending and if no precautions are taken it can also lead to unnecessary problems and disappointments.

The best protection consumers have in this regard is to know their legal rights and responsibilities.

Consumers should first of all be aware that just because goods are bought in a sale, their rights are not compromised. The basic legal protection for defective products still applies. This means that if the goods purchased during the sales are defective or not in conformity with the sales contract, consumers have a right to free recourse from the seller.

In such circumstances, consumers have the right to have the defective product repaired or replaced, if this is a viable option. If these two solutions are not possible, consumers are entitled to a refund.

Therefore, signs indicating “no refund” or “no exchange” do not apply where consumers are entitled to these legal rights. To safeguard these rights, consumers must ensure that they have proof of everything they buy, hence the importance of having proof of purchase.

If during the sale season consumers have to return a defective product that was purchased at full price, the seller may first try to repair or replace the defective item. If these two remedies are not a viable solution, consumers can opt for the third type of remedy, namely cash reimbursement.

In such a situation, the amount to be refunded should be the full price originally paid, not the discounted price. When making such a claim, it is important that consumers submit proof of purchase to show the amount paid for the defective product.

If a store advertises a 50% discount, without stating an exception, consumers should expect all items in the store to be halved.-Odette Vella

Sometimes, some goods offered for sale at a reduced price are referred to as “seconds” or “dirty shops”. If consumers wish to purchase such products, they are required to carefully examine the goods and check what the defect or damage is. These defects, generally visible, cannot be the subject of a complaint after the conclusion of the sale.

For example, if a dress is marked because it has a faulty zipper, the dress cannot be returned to the seller for the same fault. However, if after the purchase another defect appears, the seller is obliged to repair the hidden defect.

During sales, some sellers may decide to change their return policies. These policies are usually applied voluntarily in cases where consumers change their mind or make a bad buying decision. Since these policies may change during sales, before finalizing the purchase it is the consumer’s responsibility to recheck any changes with the seller.

Retailers are also advised to properly inform their customers about the changed policies in order to avoid unnecessary complaints that could tarnish the good reputation of the company.

While consumers are required to shop around and compare prices and offers to ensure they are making informed buying choices, consumer law requires sellers to always quote the final selling price. In addition, when comparing the discounted price with the previous price, the previous price should be the last price at which the goods were sold before the sales.

It is indeed considered illegal for stores to claim that products have been discounted from a higher price when in reality the same products have never been offered for sale at the claimed price. Signs showing percentages of sales must also be truthful.

If a store advertises a 50 percent discount, without listing exceptions, consumers should expect all items in the store to be halved. If not, these signs are considered deceptive advertisements and are therefore illegal.

Consumers should always be very careful not to be easily impressed by signs and advertisements promoting “great deals” and “big price reductions”. While consumers should always read the fine print of every offer, where possible, they should also verify that the discounts claimed are genuine. Knowing the prices before the sale season begins is a good start.

If consumers are faced with deceptive shopping practices, such as bogus rebate offers, or are denied any of their legal rights, they can seek help from the MCCAA Office of Consumer Affairs.


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