1. Shopping Rights
  2. Haggling
  3. Unsolicited Mail and Goods
  4. Credit and Warranties
  5. Deliveries
  6. MAKING A COMPLAINT
  7. How to avoid the superstore traps

Shopping Rights

When you go shopping, you need to be aware that you're entering into a legal contract with the seller when you buy anything. The contract offers protection to both you and the seller. For example, you may be entitled to a full refund of the price you paid if you accidentally bought goods that are damaged but the seller can refuse to refund you money if you have decided you want your money back because you now dislike the colour.

Under the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994:

Under the Sale of Goods Act, 1979:

The Acts give you six years from the time you buy something to make a claim. But these rights don't extend to an immediate refund for all that time. You only have a relatively short period to get a full refund, after which it is assumed that you have 'accepted' the item.

If you buy something in a sale, you still have all your normal rights.

Don't be drawn in by a 'closing down' sale - shops can have as many closing down sales as they like without ever having to close.

Even shop prices are simply an 'invitation to tender'. You are free to make a lower offer for anything. (And the shop assistant is free to laugh in your face at the suggestion, so be warned.)

If you see something obviously wrongly priced in a shop, the shop is not in fact obliged to sell you that item at the lower price, as long as it was a genuine mistake.

Break something in a shop where there is a notice saying 'all breakage's must be paid for'? You may not have to pay if you can prove that the shelves were poorly stacked, or the item was sticking out, or if there were other circumstances whereby it was not your negligence that caused the breakage.

Anyone can refuse to serve a customer as long as they are not discriminating unfairly.

If you're hot on recycling you are legally entitled to hand extra packaging (such as boxes or bags) back to the shop when you've bought something.

Being misled about prices can be a criminal offense. If a trader claims '£69 reduced from £500' - and it never was £500, that is misleading and they can be prosecuted for it. It's also considered misleading if a trader fails to show any hidden extras or say when a price is conditional (on another purchase, for example). The local Trading Standards Officers are the people to talk to in cases like these.

Stores may say they don't give refunds. But they can't dodge their responsibilities. If what you've bought is faulty, not as described or unfit for purpose, they are obliged to give you a monetary refund, or at least pay for the goods to be repaired.

You don't need a receipt for a refund - simply proof of purchase. If the store has CCTV cameras which have recorded you buying something, then this is sufficient, as is a credit card receipt, or the witness of someone else such as the person who dealt with your purchase.

You have the same rights when you buy sale goods as at any other time.
Beware of traders who display notices that say 'no refunds on sale goods'. These are illegal and local authorities can prosecute the trader.

You've bought a pair of trousers, taken them home and then decided that you don't want them. There's nothing wrong with them; you suddenly realise that fake snakeskin trousers are just not you. Legally, a shop doesn't have to exchange them or give you a credit note. However, many shops have a goodwill return and refund policy; they want to keep you coming back, not rum you away. So it's always worth asking (nicely!).

If you are buying shoes, there is something called the Footwear Code of Practice. This is a code of practice that the majority of reputable shoe shops abide by. If you have a problem with some shoes you bought and the shop you are dealing with won't give you your money back, a credit note or replace the shoes. Yet you feel you have a valid complaint about the shoes. If the shop is covered by the code, you can ask for the shoes to be sent to the Footwear Testing Centre for an independent opinion. You and the shop fill in a form giving each side of the story. The shoes are sent away and a week later you get the result. The shop has to abide by whatever the report says. There is a charge of which you pay one third and the shop pays the rest (including the postage). If the Centre finds that you have a valid case, you will receive a refund, compensation or replacement and your costs will be refunded.

If you buy a product that is marked as 'shop soiled' or 'faulty' you can't then return it, complaining that it's damaged. However, if it then turns out to be unsafe, you do have a case.

Never let a shopkeeper get out of giving you a refund for a faulty good because 'it's the manufacturer's fault'. Your contract is with the shopkeeper, not the manufacturer.

Full and complete instructions should come with goods. If they are inadequate this can make a product unsatisfactory. Under the Sale of Goods Act, 1979, products must be of satisfactory quality.

Don't be fobbed off by arguments about time limits. Your rights to complain for a breach of contract or negligence last for six years (five in Scotland). Even if you lose the right to reject faulty goods, you could still claim compensation.

Some traders try and wriggle out of their responsibilities by putting exclusion
clauses in their contracts (for example, refusing to accept liability for any loss or damage). If an exclusion clause is unfair, it can't be used against you because it's legally invalid. mentioning 'Trading Standards' and 'Citizens Advice' - it may be enough to make them back down.

'Special purchase' often means that the goods have been bought in just for the sales and so may not be of the usual standard. However, they still should be of satisfactory quality (that is, free from hidden defects) and as described.

A sales contract is between the shop and the purchaser so how do you return a gift? Be nice - most shops will offer to exchange your gift; they want your goodwill.

If you are given a credit note, check whether it's only valid for a limited period. You're not legally obliged to return faulty goods at your own expense.

When you're buying from a private seller, you have fewer rights than if you were buying from a shop or business. You can only claim if the goods don't match the description you were given, the seller was guilty of misrepresentation or if the goods didn't belong to them in the first place. Take someone with you when you're buying privately; they can act as a witness if necessary.

Some traders pretend to be private sellers to take advantage of the fact that the buyer has fewer rights. This is illegal and you can contact your local Trading Standards Department if you suspect something is going on.

Warning signals to look out for if you think the private seller is, in fact, a trader:

There are lots of small ads in the local paper with the same phone number.

The seller insists on coming to your house.

They insist on cash and refuse to give you a receipt.

They won't give their address.

Buying secondhand?

You cannot expect secondhand goods to be in the same condition as if they were new, unless the seller says that this is the case. The basic statutory rights apply to secondhand goods bought from a seller: the goods must be of satisfactory quality and must match their description, but take into account the price and the age of the goods when assessing the quality. If the seller has already pointed out stains, chips, cracks etc., you cannot complain about defects afterwards.

It is a good idea to take someone along when buying secondhand goods especially if they are expensive. The other person can take notes of what the seller says about the condition of the goods. This is particularly useful in private sales, where not all the basic statutory rights apply.

Resist buying products in your own home. Door-to-door salespeople are adept at getting you tied up in knots and agreeing to an outrageously high price. Never agree to buy at the first meeting. Take a few days to consider, and don't be pressured by never-to-be-repeated offers. If you insist you will still obtain the same discount a few days later.

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Haggling

There's nothing to stop you haggling - apart from your British reserve, of course. But if it saves you money, surely it's worth a try?

Big street chains, where things have a clearly labeled price, are unlikely to accept a lower offer, but smaller shops and market stalls may be more receptive, and it is always worth a go for services like building work.

Electrical stores and furniture stores are the most likely to offer deals, according to the Consumers' Association, and independents are a better bet than chains. If you are buying more than one item, you can often get money off, or free delivery and installation at the very least.

Visit the store at a quiet time, rather than a busy Saturday afternoon when the weekend staff are on.

If the salesperson says they don't have authority to negotiate, ask to see the manager.

Have three prices in your head before you start when you haggle:

the most you are prepared to pay
an average price which is acceptable
a price which you will be over the moon about if you can achieve.

Challenge yourself to achieve the lowest price, but if you can't get the goods at your top price, just walk away.

Always act surprised (disagreeably) when the sales person tells you the price, then just shut up and let them try to justify the price. More often than not, they'll add a few extras in without you even having to ask.

Don't go first in naming a price. Let the seller go first and then work down from there.

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Unsolicited Mail and Goods

If you are sent unsolicited goods and an invoice. Don't pay, but hang on to the goods. You could contact the sender and tell them you didn't order them and suggest they come and pick them up. If they don't, the goods are yours after 30 days. Equally, you don't have to do anything. If the goods are still with you after six months, you can keep them. However, if they ask for them back and offer to pay the postage within that period, you can't refuse, neither can you stop them picking the goods up.

Fed up with junk mail dropping through your door every morning? Contact the Mailing Preference Service asking them to get your name removed from mailing lists. The service was set up by the direct mail industry and is free. It can take up to three months for the junk mail to stop arriving:

The Mailing Preference Services

Freepost 22 London W1E 7EZ

Tel: 0345 034599

If you're being pestered by telephone sales people, you can cut down on the number of calls, although you'll probably never stop them altogether. Register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) by contacting:

The Telephone Preference Service Ltd
5th Floor
Haymarket House
1 Oxenden Street
London SW1Y 4EE

Tel: 0845 070 0707

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Credit and Warranties

If you're refused credit by a shop, you can ask for the name of the Credit Reference Agency that the shop uses. You have 28 days to ask for the information after you've been refused credit. They must give you the information within seven days of you asking for it; it's a criminal offense for them to refuse.

You can contact the Credit Reference Agency and ask for details of your file; you will have to pay a small sum of money for this. It's worth checking because the records could be incorrect, out of date or incomplete.

If you buy using credit, you get extra rights to protect you. This applies if the goods cost more than £100. The credit card or finance company is equally liable for any claim you have against a trader; you might be able to claim from them rather than the trader. This doesn't apply to debit cards or a charge card (where you have to pay in full within a few weeks of receiving the account).

Always read the fine print before accepting credit. Store cards often have a higher rate of interest that credit cards, so always check the interest rate and terms and conditions before saying yes.

Sometimes, credit is given only if the loan can be secured against your home. A secured loan like this gives security to the lender, not to you. That means if you fail to keep up the repayments, the lender can sell your home to cover their loss. This option isn't available if you rent. The good side of it is that you often get lower rates of interest but the downside is that you could lose your home if things go wrong.

Be wary of warranties;

Extended warranties are a form of guarantee but they can be extremely expensive. You're usually offered one when buying goods such as washing machines and TVs. But these items often break down in the first 12 months of using them... when they're still covered by the original manufacturer's guarantee, or after five years, when the warranty will usually have expired.

Repair costs may be cheaper in the long run than buying an extended warranty. Think about it before you get one. .

If a business goes bust, taking your deposit with it, you almost certainly won't get your money back. You're the last in a long line of creditors. However, if the goods have been clearly marked as yours, not the trader's, and put to one side they then belong to you.

If you pay your deposit using your credit card and it's for more than £100, you have some protection. You could claim from the credit card company.

Guarantees

Guarantees are useful in that they give you extra rights. They can't replace or remove your statutory rights. Guarantees have to be clear, unambiguous and available for you to see before you buy the goods or service. Some items have a manufacturer's registration card to return to the manufacturer, make sure you or the seller fills it in; if you don't, you may not be able to claim anything.

Keep a file of receipts, whatever the value of the product you have bought. Receipts are essential proof of purchase if you need to return a product for whatever reason.

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Deliveries

Fact: 56 million working days are lost every year waiting for deliveries to arrive. Even more frustrating is the fact that the frequently fail to arrive!

Legally, goods don't have to be delivered within a set period of time. The Sale of Goods Act, 1979 says that a retailer must deliver to you 'within a reasonable time'. If date of delivery is important, you should put it in writing when making the contract. If the delivery is then delayed, you can cancel the contract and receive a full refund. If it then costs you more to get the same goods elsewhere, you can claim the extra cost from the original retailer.

In some cases, the date of delivery is not specified but implied - Christmas, for example. If goods arrive late, you can cancel the contract and get a refund plus any extra costs.

You are often required to sign for a delivery note. Read it carefully. If it says that by signing you are acknowledging that the goods have been delivered in good order, you could be signing away your right to reject them later. Make sure you write 'unexamined' on the delivery note before you sign.

Goods are sometimes damaged in transit. Many mail-order companies that belong to trade associations will agree to replace damaged goods free of charge. If the supplier can't prove that the goods left their premises in good condition, you may well have a claim. If the items were obviously damaged while in transit, you can claim against the carrier. Compensation is awarded on a sliding scale and it may not cover the actual cost of the item. The Sale of Goods Act, 1979 states that once goods are handed over to the carrier by the supplier they become the property of the buyer who should bear the risk of accidental loss or damage in transit. However, the Act also says that the supplier should make sure that the goods are covered by adequate insurance while in transit. If the goods turn up damaged and the supplier hasn't got any insurance protection, you can refuse to accept the goods and ask for your money back.

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MAKING A COMPLAINT

If you buy faulty goods you should return them to the shop, with the receipt and you will be entitled to some or all of your money back.

Decided you don't like it after all? You will only be able to change it, have a credit note or refund if this was agreed at the time of the sale with the seller. Check before you buy if you aren't sure.

Beware when buying goods on extended credit. If you want to cancel the agreement, for example, because you can no longer afford the goods, you will only be able to change your mind about keeping them if:

the goods were bought at your home and the order is canceled within a short period; or
the seller agrees to cancel the sale. Some sellers do this, others may provide a credit note instead of a cash refund; or
the agreement contains cancellation clauses. These will set out whether and when cancellation is allowed and may also set out any charges payable on cancellation.

You may be able to claim compensation if you told the seller you needed goods delivered by a certain date and they were not delivered on time. If no date was given, then you must give the seller a date by which you expect the goods to be delivered before taking any further action.

If you receive an invoice or letter asking for payment for goods which were not ordered, either ignore it or report the matter to the local Trading Standards Office as the sender may have committed a criminal offense. Try writing to the sender to complain too.

If you want to complain, write to the top person in the business. It will get handed down to the right person eventually but they may well prioritise it, as it has been referred to them by their superior. Also look on the Internet at www.bbc.co.uk/watchdog.

If you need to make a complaint by telephone, stand up when you make the call. Psychologists say that this gives you a greater sense of authority.

Swallow before you speak - it will give you an authoritative pause. And make your complaint effectively; don't let yourself be sidetracked. Stay calm and polite. Remember to record the date, time and their name as well as what was discussed. Companies often record telephone conversations themselves but need to know the details before they can verify what has been said.

If you are making a complaint face to face, try and relax. If you're tense, it will show. Take a few deep breaths, relax your shoulders and face muscles as you breathe out.

Complain to the right person. There's no point in shouting at the person who picks up the phone or answers the door. It just wastes energy and you're not talking to the person who has the authority to make decisions. Track down the manager, customer services manager or managing director.

Give the trader a chance to make things right once you've complained. Know what it is you want them to do to make things better - money back, compensation, replacement goods, a letter of apology or their head on a platter.

Follow up your complaint in writing if you can't resolve things immediately. This is known as the 'letter before action'. Address it to a named individual so it ends up on someone's desk, rather than being passed from pillar to post. Add any references or numbers that might be relevant.

Give the company a deadline for their response to your complaint and take a note of every response you get, particularly verbal ones. If your first letter or first phone call is not answered properly within a couple of weeks, send them another letter but this time by recorded delivery. Tell them that you will be taking legal action if they do not respond.

When writing a complaints letter, stick to the point. You may feel better producing a long, angry letter which gets things off your chest but it won't help you in the long run. If you must, write a mad rant first (but don't send it) then write the real letter. State the facts dearly. Don't get personal. If you have to send documents to back up your argument, send copies. Always keep the originals. Keep copies of your letters and use recorded delivery, then no one can say that they didn't receive your complaint.

If you are complaining about faulty goods, quote the Sale of Goods Act, 1979 (as amended) or the Supply of Goods and Services Act, 1982 if you've received inadequate service. It shows you know your rights. You may not know the actual Acts back to front and word for word but it's unlikely that the person you're complaining to does either.

If you're complaining about being overcharged, get quotations from other companies to compare costs.

Don't be tempted to withhold payment if you have a credit agreement. If you stop paying, it can affect your chances of getting credit in the future. If you carry on paying, it won't undermine any claim you have against the lender for unsatisfactory service by a supplier.

You can always take your complaint to a head office. Or call upon the local Trading Standards Office or trade association. If you need to bring in the heavy guns, consider going to consumer organisations or TV and radio consumer programmes. There's nothing like a bit of adverse publicity to make companies back down.

Back up complaints with evidence. Receipts, bills, contracts, statements from witnesses, photographs, expert evidence... whatever it takes.
As a result of your complaint, you may be sent a cheque in 'full and final settlement of your claim. If you're happy with that, fine. However, you may feel that the amount isn't enough. Don't cash it; send it back. If you cash it, you have accepted it and won't be able to claim any more. If in doubt, send it back.

Recognise a fair offer when it appears. Sometimes, it's not worth holding out for the impossible.

If you are late or fail to turn up to meet someone who is supplying you with a service, like a hairdresser or dentist, they can charge you for the appointment. That's why they often take your number when you book. But this works both ways. If you've taken time off work to wait for someone to arrive and they don't arrive or turn up late, you can charge them a reasonable sum for your time. The best way to do this is to knock it off their final bill.

The Government's Consumer Gateway site gives information on sites linked to shopping rights. You can get online advice about buying safely on the Internet from the Office of Fair Trading website.

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How to avoid the superstore traps

Fact: If you shop when you are hungry, you will spend between 17 and 20% more on food.

Fact: Take your children shopping with you and you will add an average of 30% to your bill.

Why do we always seem to spend more that we expect when we go into a supermarket? When you first enter the store, you'll almost certainly come across flowers, magazines, fruit and the bakery. That's it - you're in sensory overload. You'll linger to admire the lovely stuff on offer. You've already been put in a much more pleasant state of mind by the associations triggered by these high-profit departments.

Staple items are placed at the four corners of the store. It's to make sure you have to walk all round the store, even if you just wanted the basics. You'll have to spend longer there and you're more likely to succumb to an impulse buy - or ten.

Like lab rats, we're used to our little route through the store. The layout is planned so you'll go up and down the aisles, zigzagging your way to the end. You'll find most people go the same route, and that higher priced items will be placed on your right, where shoppers tend to make their selection, so lower priced items will be on the left, to move them faster. Strike a blow for freedom! Do your shopping backwards. Instead of starting where the supermarket planners want you to start - the produce department, start at the other end of the store. You won't be as likely to buy impulse items that are not on your list, because supermarket planners position 'specials' to face the flow of traffic. Shopping in this way can save 10 to 12 per cent on your usual grocery bill.

In the cereal section, the 'healthier' cereals - branflakes, muesli, oats and so on are usually on the top shelf. Bargain cereals and bulk or bagged cereals are generally placed on the bottom shelf. At a child's eye level, are all the sugary cereals with little giveaway models (usually 101 to collect). Right opposite, or at least nearby, are the sweets - it's a mother's nightmare area.

At adult's eye level, products are all higher priced. Suppliers even pay to have their goods displayed in this coveted position, so keep looking up and down.

Massive end-of-aisle displays, large window signs and a cluttered look create a bargain-basement look that is often not borne out by low prices.
Comparison shop within the store. The same product may be differently priced - deli products are usually dearer for the same item than prepackaged. Having it plonked into a little tub before your eyes makes you think it's somehow fresher, when the reverse may be true.

Less than 6 per cent of shoppers ever redeem rebates or mail-in offers. But they're a great incentive to buy a product or to purchase multiple packages to comply with the offer. Before you put the products in your trolley, decide that you really will redeem the offer.

Shopping more frequently, paradoxically, means that you spend less because you focus on fewer meals rather than panicking and trying to cater for the whole week. This way you can also go directly to what you want rather than shopping through the whole store. Remember to use a basket so you can go through the express checkout.

Finally, to get out fast, avoid shopping at peak times, of course, but go when the shop is moderately busy so that you can be sure there will be a full staff on duty.

Check your dates

'Use by' is used on perishables, such as dairy produce, cakes, sandwiches and ready meals. The food should be safe to eat or cook up to midnight on the stated date. It is an offense for produce to be sold after the 'use-by' date.

'Best before' appears on cans, cereals, preserves and eggs, indicating when quality and taste may start to deteriorate, though some foods can stay edible for a long time after. The food can be sold, so long as it hasn't gone off.

'Display until' and 'sell by', which are often found on fruit and vegetables, aren't legally binding and are more for the shopkeeper's benefit.

Food labeling, like the truth, is seldom pure and never simple. But the Food Standards Agency is trying to make things clearer. Take eggs, for example. The term 'Farm Fresh' means absolutely nothing at all, although more than 35 per cent of shoppers believe that eggs described as 'Farm Fresh' come from free-range hens. In fact, the term is commonly used on produce from factory farms, as are the terms 'Country Fresh' and simply 'Fresh'. Following campaigns by consumer and animal rights groups, some retailers are now labeling battery eggs more clearly as 'Eggs From Caged Hens'.

According to the law, 'Free Range' eggs should be produced by hens that have continuous daytime access to open-air runs. The organisation Compassion in World Farming recommends that 'Free Range' is still the best choice for eggs but warns that the term does not have any legal meaning when applied to products other than eggs and poultry.

Food described as Natural must be made of naturally produced ingredients - nothing sterilised, pasteurised, frozen or concentrated.

Pure describes food that contains no additives and is free from contamination from other food.

Write off for free samples and information from companies launching new products. You soon get the knack of spotting the promotional packs, and once you're on the mailing list, you may go on getting samples as new brands emerge-There are websites that specialise in finding free stuff and gathering all the information together for you to browse. In exchange for a little information about yourself, and your email address you can request samples of cosmetics, drinks, pet foods, health products.

Make the most of coupons

It takes a bit of organisation, but you can cut your shopping bills to a considerable extent by making full use of the coupons available in newspapers, in supermarket promotional magazines, on products and in mail-outs. But remember, it's only a bargain if you were going to buy it in the first place.

Look for coupons everywhere. Have your scissors in hand when you read the paper. Check store entrances for free newspapers and flyers for coupons.
Keep your coupons organised, by product type, expiration date, alphabetical order - or all of the above, if you're a complete obsessive.

Make a shopping list before you go shopping and put a little star next to the products you have coupons for.

Make the most of your coupons. Swap them with friends, workmates, family and neighbours.

Some coupons are only available by calling the manufacturers. The numbers to call are generally freephone numbers, and sometimes they have an option for requesting free samples. Go for it.

Snap up rebates, freebies or vouchers for cheaper petrol with minimum store purchases, but only if you're going to use them.

Forget brand loyalty. Be willing to switch brands and stores to take advantage of lower prices and/or coupon offers.

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