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It’s The Law! Consumer Complaints – Beware 30-Day Return Policies

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I was recently asked what recourse someone has when an internet company sold expensive “cooling” bedding that shredded in the wash five weeks after purchase. The company posts a 30-day return policy and would not issue a refund. The shopper felt conned by the website boasting: “easy care – machine washable” and “Recommended by Dr. Oz For A Better Nights Sleep.” The consumer lost money, had to clean shredded pieces of bedding from the washer, and ultimately bought perfectly good, inexpensive bedding from a local store. Here is the law and some tips to help you be a smart consumer.

Florida does not mandate that merchants take returns; it only requires in Florida Statutes 501.142 that a seller post any return policy clearly at the point of sale. If there is no policy posted, then, by law, a consumer has seven days to return items with a receipt, as long as the merchandise is unused and in the original packaging, except for custom made, perishable, and items prohibited by law.

According to Professor Mary N. Harrison, from the University of Florida, before buying any product, especially over the internet, make sure you clearly understand the details of a seller’s policy regarding returns and keep documentation of your purchase. Here is her checklist for consumers:

  • Will the seller accept returns? If so, will a cash refund be given? Or must you select other merchandise?
  • How long do you have to return the purchase? Is it long enough to really test the durability of the product?
  • What proof of purchase is required when attempting to return? Keep each sales receipt and original packaging until you are certain you do not want to exchange or return the item, it is not defective, and its warranty has expired.

When ordering merchandise over the internet, it is wise to check the reliability of the seller first and see if there is a history of unresolved complaints about poorly made products. There are databases to find consumer complaints of all types. Go to www.bbb.org/us to check out a business and for current alerts and scams. Consumers may also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau on that site. AngiesList.com has information on service providers in most categories, including health and construction.

Seeing a product advertised excitedly on TV by a celebrity you trust might make it tempting to “just call now” or “add to cart” but make sure you are prepared to lose your money if the product lasts only a short time. Smart shoppers realize it is better to support local retailers or name brand stores that have a reputation for standing behind their merchandise. There is a lot of wisdom in the Latin proverb: “Let the buyer beware.”