Despite every consumer’s best efforts, inevitably a moment comes when they have to return an item to a retailer. It can even concern something as simple as buying the smooth rather than crunchy peanut butter the last time you went to the supermarket. And yet the endeavour can become fraught if a consumer does not have proof of purchase. In such a situation, what rights does a consumer have and what are a business’ obligations? If that thought has ever crossed your mind, this article discusses whether a consumer can return a product without proof of purchase.

What is Proof of Purchase?

Of course, the definition of proof of purchase is relatively uncomplicated. It is a document that proves you bought an item from a particular store. The most common example is a receipt that shows a supplier’s essential details: ABN or ACN, date of purchase, price and name of product/service. A receipt is not the only means of proving purchase. Others include:

  • Lay-by Agreement;
  • Receipt number or confirmation number for telephone or online transactions;
  • Credit card statement;
  • Warranty Card showing a supplier’s or manufacturer’s details, date and amount of purchase; or
  • Serial or production number. The number usually links to a supplier’s or manufacturer’s database.

Proof of purchase is important because it tells a business that you bought an item in their store. This matters if you are returning an item to that store for two main reasons:

  • It negates questions of possible fraud; and
  • It allows consumers to access their consumer rights.

Fraud

If a consumer has a problem with a product, they likely require repair, replacement or a refund. Of course, that the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) governs the purchase and the fault breach of a consumer guarantee.

Put simply that represents a cost to business.  They must bear the cost of repairing the item or giving you another one. If a refund is required, they must pay for that expense as well. And while most businesses readily comply with their legal obligations, they need to be satisfied as a matter of financial prudence that the consumer did not buy the product elsewhere. If they did and the business provides the remedy, they have incurred a double cost.

Understandably, for a business owner the spectre of potential fraud is always a concern when a consumer has no receipt or other evidence of purchase but wants to return the item. Of course, not everyone who returns an item without proof of purchase is acting fraudulently.  Many consumers have found themselves needing to return an item but without a receipt for the silliest of reasons. Nonetheless, a business does not necessarily know you or your circumstances. They have to be cautious.

Consumer Rights

Proof of purchase is important for another, interrelated reason. Without proof of purchase, a consumer may not be able to access their rights. Under the ACL, when a consumer returns an item a business is entitled to ask for proof of purchase. If the consumer does not have it, they can refuse to offer the appropriate legal remedy. In short, the purchaser cannot rely on the consumer guarantees to oblige that supplier to correct the failure. That would be disappointing, frustrating and expensive for anyone.

Of course, a consumer is always able to try and return an item without a proof of purchase. The difference is that without a receipt, a supplier is not legally obliged to do anything. The store may have a policy in these instances. They might even provide a remedy. But it wholly depends on chance rather than law. The business need not do anything.

That means that receipts are always a good idea. They allow consumers to access their rights and gives businesses certainty. All consumers should be aware that businesses need not provide a receipt for purchases under $75.00. However, they can always request one. A business must then supply it within seven days.

If you would like more information about proof of purchase, the website for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is an excellent general resource. If you have a particular issue, it is a good idea to speak with a lawyer. Contact LegalVision’s business lawyers to assist you. Questions? Call us on 1300 544 755.

Carole Hemingway

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