Australians urged to know their consumer rights amid multiple complaints of faulty products

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Australian Consumers
Customers arrive for a sale at a department store in a shopping mall in central Sydney June 6, 2013. Reuters/Daniel Munoz

Tens of thousands of consumers are reporting huge problems in returning faulty goods to retailers, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The consumer watchdog revealed that it has received over 9,000 complaints from shoppers about consumer guarantees in the first quarter of 2017, as well as 20,000 complaints last year.

Twenty-four percent of the complaints were in relation to electronics and appliances. Issues concerning motor vehicles follow at 17 percent. There are also complaints related to services, furniture, clothing and accessories.

ACCC's acting chair Delia Rickard said that some consumers who contact them simply wanted to know their rights, while others are complaining about stores that do not respond appropriately. "If the store is not responding to your claim, I'd go and explain that I know my Australian Consumer Law (ACL) rights, explain the problem, and ask for a remedy," she said per the Sydney Morning Herald.

Rickard advises that consumers must make it clear that they know the law. If retailers contest, she said shoppers can show them the ACCC website.

Online "complaint letter" tool

Amid the increasing tide of complaints from consumers, ACCC launched an online "complaint letter" tool that can help Australian shoppers assert their rights. The move came after it reportedly noticed that its "how to write a complaint letter" was infrequently being downloaded yet it gets several views.

With the new online tool, consumers do not need to download a copy of ACCC’s instruction on how to write a complaint letter. Instead, they can make use of the tool to be guided on what to say to retailers to get the best response.

Based on the latest ACCC figures, 70 percent of the 9,000 complaints are related to issues of "acceptable quality.” Retailers argue for further guidance about what exactly "acceptable quality" means since everyone has different expectations. Executive director of the Australian Retailers Association Russell Zimmerman and its members have also expressed concern about the different views of what "reasonable and fair wear" is about.

Consumer group Choice has previously reminded consumers about their legal rights to return faulty products, even if store policies purport to say they cannot. Under the Australian Consumer Law, purchases should come with guarantees that they are of "acceptable quality” and match the descriptions. There must be demonstration models as well. Warranties will be counted to these guarantees. Meanwhile, the ACCC has prosecuted some companies like Apple and Harvey Norman for misleading consumers about their rights.

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