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There will be times when customers are unsatisfied with a product they purchased from your business. Subsequently, they will want to return it for a refund or a similar remedy. The law requires that you do give them a remedy in certain situations, namely when you have failed to meet your consumer guarantees. Therefore, you should set out your returns process in a clear returns policy that customers can easily find. This way, you can facilitate better customer service and relations and comply with the law. A critical step in your process should be to require a form of identification or proof of purchase, which is often a receipt for returns. For some guidance, this article will explain whether a customer needs a receipt to return an item to your store.

When Can Customers Return Items?

Customers return items to receive a remedy for their grievance or problem. In some cases, the law gives them the right to get this remedy. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, whenever you sell products or services to consumers for personal use, you need to maintain a certain standard of quality and care. Consumer guarantees dictate this standard, which is that your products must be:

  • fit for their intended purpose;
  • of acceptable quality;
  • delivered on time and in good condition;
  • the same as their description; and
  • sold legally.

For example, you may sell a customer a faulty product, then that product is not of acceptable quality. In most cases, they can return the product and ask for a remedy.

If you do not meet your consumer guarantees, then you need to provide a remedy, which is either a:

  • replacement; 
  • repair; or
  • refund.

When the fault is minor, such as an easily repairable wheel on a toy, then you get to choose the remedy. However, if the fault is major and you cannot easily fix it, the customer gets to choose which remedy they want.

Providing Proof of Purchase

Before you can facilitate a returns process, you need proof that the customer asking for a return actually bought the item. In most cases, for returns, a receipt is the best way to confirm this. A receipt shows: 

  • the time and date the customer purchased the product; 
  • the location where they bought the product; 
  • the amount of product they bought; and
  • that they bought the product from your store.

However, all that a receipt does is prove the purchase. If a customer can prove that they bought the item from you with another method, then you should accept this where it is valid and reasonable. Other examples of proof of purchase could include:

  • records on their customer account with your business;
  • a bank statement;
  • a contract for services or purchase;
  • a statement from someone else who was with them at the time of purchase;
  • original packaging; or
  • a credit card statement.

It is up to you what other methods of proof you accept. However, if you arbitrarily or unreasonably refuse the valid proof the customer provides, this can negatively reflect your business. Not only can this discourage other customers from purchasing your goods, but it also can hurt your chances if the aggrieved customer decides to take the case to the Disputes Tribunal.

Tip: You should clarify in your returns policy that customers need proof of purchase to get a return. Doing this informs your customers and saves you future hassle.

When You Do Not Have to Provide a Return or Refund

Outside of the situations the Consumer Guarantees Act provides, you do not have to give your customer a remedy for their issue. Some examples of these grievances may include the customer:

  • changing their mind about their purchase;
  • not reading the instructions and misusing the product;
  • breaking the product through their misuse; or
  • ordering or buying the wrong size.

In cases like these, you do not have to honour a product return. However, you may decide to allow exchanges or credit in these cases as part of your business policy.

For instance, if a customer ordered the wrong size, you may allow them to exchange their product for the correct size or store credit.

You may not have to allow a return if the customer knew about a product fault beforehand, or the goods were secondhand and therefore of lower quality anyway. These cases will depend on the unique facts of your situation. For example, if you sold a customer a product on credit or through a door to door sale, they have a five-day cooling-off period to change their mind and return the product.

Key Takeaways

In the cases where a customer has a legitimate grievance, such as a broken consumer guarantee, legally, they can return their product and ask for a remedy. However, in these cases, you should ask for proof of purchase, such as a receipt for returns, so that you can prove the customer purchased from you. If you would like more information or help with the legal aspects of your product returns, contact LegalVision’s regulatory and compliance lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a remedy?

A remedy is a name for the solution you give when you have broken one of your consumer guarantees to a customer. For example, a replacement, refund, or repair are suitable remedies.

Do my customers need a receipt to ask for a refund?

Your customers need to provide some method of proving their purchase from you if they want a refund. For returns, a receipt is one of the most common ways to do this, but not the only way.

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