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Sale of Goods Right to a Refund ?

I was in a Sports Shop last Saturday (which shall remain nameless), aiming to buy some more sports kit.

Whilst there, I happened across a customer who we will call, “Fred” for the sake of maintaining anonymity.

Fred had bought some trainers; taken them home, tried them on, wasn’t entirely happy with them and brought them back for a refund.

Fred was told by the shop that he could not have a refund. They asked him whether there was actually anything wrong with the trainers and he confirmed that there wasn’t.

He had bought them for cycling and whilst they weren’t entirely suitable, there was actually nothing wrong with the trainers.

The shop referred Fred to the notice above his head at the pay desk, which confirmed that the shop’s policy is not to provide refunds.

Aside from the fact that it could not have been read standing at the pay desk, partly because it was immediately above his head; partly because the notice was approximately ten feet above head height and partly because the text on the notice would have been too small to read, it is unlikely that it would have been properly incorporated into any contract, which was in fact the purpose for having it there.

So, what was Fred’s rights ? Was he entitled to a refund ? Or was the shop entitled to refuse to provide one ?

The right to a refund or not depends in each and every case on the circumstances, and the goods supplied.

If the goods were defective and/or not of “Satisfactory Quality”, then Fred would have indeed been entitled to a refund.

However, Fred readily admitted there was in fact nothing wrong with the goods and so therefore "Sports Shop" was entitled to insist upon its strict legal rights and refuse to provide a refund.

Poor old Fred couldn’t get his head around this, because as he said, almost every shop these days will provide a refund if you purchase goods; take them home, try them on as appropriate and then decide to take them back.

He is used to stores like M&S, providing a no quibble refund if you buy goods from them; get them home and then you are not entirely happy with them.

Parliament and the Courts try and maintain a balance between the rights of the consumer or buyer on the one hand, and the rights of sellers on the other.

The law of contract in this country has been developed over hundreds of years, with endless case law fine tuning it.

It is important in all contracts that there is relative certainty as to whether or not a contract has been entered into.

Imagine Fred as a seller rather than a buyer. Supposing he gets home and decides to sell his car for £10,000. He advertises it for this price and when a potential buyer comes along, he succeeds in selling it to them for £12,000 instead of £10,000 !

Having got £2,000 more for his car, do you think he would be keen to take the car back and provide a refund if the person who bought it wasn’t happy when he got it home ?

Whilst "Sports Shop" might be within their strict legal rights, many shops offer no quibble refunds as part of their efforts to maintain customer satisfaction. They want their customers to come back time and time again and buy more goods from them and they are prepared to put up with the hassle of reselling goods if they are returned to the shop in the same condition.

Insofar as Fred is concerned, not only will he spend the rest of his life telling everyone he meets, never to buy from "Sports Shop"; he’s probably standing outside their front door now with a placard, trying to dissuade customers from buying there.

There is of course a lesson here, and that is whilst you can insist upon your strict legal rights, it doesn’t always pay to do so !



Stephen served his Articles at Wragge & Co, one of Birmingham's largest and most prestigious corporate law firms, where he was Articled to Sir Patrick Lawrence, the Firm’s Senior Partner.

Over his many years in practice, Stephen has gained considerable experience in a wide variety of disciplines. These have mostly been in the Company and Commercial field but have also included such diverse things as successfully defending a soldier in a Court Martial; obtaining a substantial settlement for a commercial agent in a dispute with his Principal, a blue chip company; and involvement in numerous multi-million pound acquisitions.

His meticulous attention to detail and thorough grasp of his field means clients can be assured that nothing is overlooked and their interests will be thoroughly protected.

Stephen is widely regarded by clients as one of the leading Company and Commercial Solicitors in the West Midlands.

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