Family Health Legal Library

Typical Consumer Problems

Store Merchandise Purchases

Easily, the most common consumer problem arises in the area of purchasing merchandise from stores. If your case involves such a purchase, you can use this section to help you solve your problem favorably.

Several examples would include purchasing a bike that constantly got flat tires, or the purchase of a pair of jumper cables that shocked you, or the purchase of a toaster that always burned the bread. These problems happen everyday, and yet we often decide that it is not worth pursuing our rights to make sure the goods we buy are usable.

In the case of the bicycle that continuously got flat tires, the purchaser would likely be entitled to either a new bike, or at the very least, new tires and rims which did not constantly go flat. The same with the toaster that burned the bread.

The problem in these cases is not whether we are entitled to new merchandise or refunds or credits, as it is usually clear that we are entitled to these remedies. What is usually the problem is that the store or business from which the merchandise was purchased will not give us a refund, credit, or new merchandise. What do we do?

You must remember that simply because your product did not function properly, you may not be entitled to a new product. You must first give the store a reasonable opportunity to replace or repair the problem. In the case of the toaster, if the store agreed to take it back and repair it and then it worked fine, the store's conduct would likely be considered reasonable, and you might not be entitled to a new toaster.

However, before accepting this remedy from the store, you might try to negotiate a new toaster from them. One way would be to inform the store that the Uniform Commercial Code requires that the toaster carry an "implied warranty" that the toaster is "merchantable." While it is risky to demand a new toaster using your understanding of the legal system, that is the purpose of this discussion. You can assert your rights with some degree of confidence, and more than likely, you might prevail.

Caution: Be careful about problems with merchandise that either you: (1) just do not like; or (2) cannot use the merchandise after getting it home.

First, with respect to goods or services that you just do not like when you get home, you are likely going to be out of luck. Stores are not required to have a policy of returns for any reason, including your personal satisfaction. You must decide you will be satisfied before you make the purchase, or you may be out of luck.

Additionally, so long as the store from which you purchased your goods had a sign, prominently displayed, that said "No Refunds/No Exchanges," you are bound by this policy. That means by purchasing the product, you are agreeing to this term of the agreement between you and the store.

It should be noted that even where a sign of "No Refunds/No Exchanges" is displayed, if your product is defective, the store must still replace or repair your product. You are not entitled to a refund, you are entitled to a product which is in working condition. A store which sells a product which is defective has violated its warranty to you, the purchaser, and that is not legally permissible.

Second, with respect to merchandise purchased that has no actual problem, but you simply decide that you do not want the object, (i.e., it is the wrong color, it is not powerful enough for your use, or similar reasons) you may not have the same protection. You may have heard of the phrase "Caveat Emptor" or "Let the Buyer Beware." This means that you must be certain, before you buy the goods, that it is right for your purpose. If the goods function properly and do all of the things the instructions or salesperson stated, you cannot claim that these goods should be returned, refunded or credited, just because your purpose is not served.

However, you may still have some remedies. For example, assume you discussed your specific purpose with the salesperson, they did some research and stated that your purpose could be satisfied, and then, based on this statement, you made the purchase. Once you put the product to the use discussed, and found out that your purpose could not be served, you now may have recourse. But be careful to understand that your recourse stems not from the product, or any statutory implied warranties. Rather, your recourse stems from the representations made by your salesperson. Many stores successfully wiggle out of representations made by their sales persons, since they are not in writing.

If you believe you made a purchase which falls into this category, you may want to learn more about the specific steps you can take to pursue your legal rights. The Small Claims and Consumer Help section gives you step-by-step instructions to follow in determining: (1) whether it is worth it to sue; (2) what paperwork to file; and (3) exactly how to present your case to give you the best chance of winning.

Remember, hesitation gives the person or store who was not fair to you the upper hand. This section is all about making sure you get help with your problem, when it costs too much to hire a lawyer. The resources in this library and through our Small Claims and Consumer Help section can be used by you over and over again whenever these problems arise.

Typical Consumer Problems
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