Is the sale of goods act too hard on retailers?

 I’ve written several articles about our consumer rights under the sale of goods act, and how we are being fobbed of left right and centre by retailers who falsely claim there’s nothing they can do once an appliance is out of the manufacturer’s guarantee.

However, whilst always only writing about the true reality and extent of our rights it’s always struck me as being very hard on retailers and repairers, and quite unfair. I’m pretty sure they all feel very hard done by, which explains why we have to fight so hard to get anywhere with them.

Goods have to be durable, free from inherent faults, and last a reasonable time, so if an £800 fridge freezer is scrap after 3 years because the main insulation has failed and it can’t be repaired at reasonable cost how is that the retailer’s fault? It’s the manufacturer who is to blame. It’s nothing to do with the retailer (apart from if they are knowingly selling poor quality products, in which case – no sympathy). Yet under the UK Sale of Goods Act only the retailer has to deal with it and compensate if a customer is correct in thinking it hasn’t lasted a reasonable time.

Our contract is with the retailer

The retailer is the one who took our money, so a manufacturer can’t give it back if they never had it. The manufacture has no Sale of goods obligations to us at all other than the obligation to honour their guarantee. They sold the appliance to the retailer, who then sold it (at profit) to us. Clearly this is why we have to deal with the retailer when things go wrong. However, whilst no retailer would be likely to complain about that if things go wrong straight away, it’s a massive burden to have to deal with faults and replacements years later, which the sale of goods act clearly obliges them to do under many circumstances (Out of guarantee – even by a long time doesn’t always mean you should pay). This is especially tough on small retailers.

Are the manufacturers to blame for our struggle to get recompense for faulty or poor quality goods?

From our point of view it’s the retailers who try to limit our claims as much as possible, but if every time a retailer compensated a customer with a free repair or replacement they were able to claim their costs back from the manufacturer (who is really responsible) there should be few problems. I suspect that much of the time this isn’t the case, otherwise why would retailers be so stubborn about free repairs or replacements the minute a manufacturer’s guarantee expires?

Retailers commonly aren’t able to repair products themselves so presumably if a product is out of the manufacturer’s guarantee and it should be repaired free of charge because a major fault has developed (e.g a £700 washing machine 18 months old with terminal drum bearing failure) they have to rely on the manufacturer to agree to repair it free of charge. However, as the manufacturer hasn’t got one single obligation under the sale of goods act, they may well refuse. Where does this leave the retailer? All they can do is say it’s out of guarantee and the manufacturer won’t do anything. But under UK law the retailer is obliged to fix it or replace it (I’m confident any example like the one above would be judged by a small claims court to be valid).

The Sale of Goods Act causes a big Catch 22 situation

So if this is the case it would seem our rights, which in law rest with the retailer, may be being decided by the manufacturer, who has no obligation, and no incentive other than if they perceive it’s in their interests to keep the customer happy (which they only do up to a point). If you think about it, why should a manufacturer repair something free of charge or give us a new one at cost to themselves when their guarantee has run out and they have no obligation to? But conversely, why should a retailer have to pay the manufacturer hundreds of pounds to fix or replace a product when the only reason it failed is because the manufacturer didn’t make it properly? The onus is completely on the wrong party!

However, as explained in opening paragraphs, there’s a logical reason why the government put the onus onto the retailer. But until the government somehow make manufacturer’s properly, or at least equally responsible, the status quo will remain, and almost every time consumers have a valid claim they will meet resistance, disinformation, stubbornness and stress. Most (by far) will just complain but accept, or push a little then give up when faced with the, “I’m sorry but it’s out of its guarantee” response.

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Comments

  1. avatar Riccardo says:

    I see your point. However, if all retailers are forced to honour their contractual obligations they will most likely raise prices on poor product, and shun manufactures who provide bad post-sales support and unreliable products. While a single consumer may make uninformed choices, a shop has a greater interest in not doing so. This would ultimately be in the consumer’s interest.

    However, it would then favour the retailer who closes a company every two years and re-opens, thus losing all the liabilities – a practice which needs to be clamped down on in my opinion (and in the opinion of my MP). Why is business so complicated?

  2. Hi Riccardo. I’ve said in one of my previous articles that it would open a big can of worms if retailers actually started honouring what the sale of goods act says. It would shake things up very badly and cost them dearly.

    For years retailers and manufacturers have got away with deferring most of these problems by convincing people they needed to take out expensive insurance on everything they bought. That meant that many of the sale of goods act issues never surfaced because when an appliance broke down unreasonably out of the first years guarantee the insurance paid for it. Everyone was happy – except that the customers en masse were subsidising the whole thing.

    These days far less people take out insurance after they’ve realised (and been advised by many consumer groups) that it’s generally poor value for money, plus they’ve been forced to reduce costs, cut down hard selling of it etc. So more people are now finding things have broken down and need expensive repairs or replacement at ridiculously young ages when they haven’t misused or overused them.

    I also make your point about retailers dropping poor quality products and unhelpful manufacturers which in theory is exactly what should happen, so that after a settling down period most retailers would only sell decent quality products and there would no longer be a problem. The theory would be that they realise it’s not worth selling the stuff which breaks down too often and doesn’t last very long because they have to compensate too much. In reality though it is unlikely to happen because retailers profit greatly from selling products which need replacing more often and they’d probably still be financially better off in the long run. Unfortunately manufacturers have far more power over retailers than most people would suspect.

  3. avatar Riccardo says:

    Thank you for such a thorough, considered, reply.

    It’s a complex world we live in.

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