Press releases

Survey finds consumers aren’t savvy in the sales

It was reported that Boxing Day sales hit a record high with around 5 million people buying products online, spending an estimated £153 million. But a survey carried out by the Trading Standards Institute revealed confusion around buying goods in the sales.

More than 1,300 (1,329) members of the public took part in the survey (December 2010) to determine what consumers know about their rights when it comes to shopping. When asked why they had not returned items to a retailer, nearly a third (29.6%) of those surveyed said they felt awkward returning goods and just over 15% said they weren't sure what their rights were.*

While it is good to know that the majority of consumers are aware of their rights when buying goods, there are still some areas where consumers appear to be unclear about their rights.
Almost 30% of respondents (29.6%) believed you can return goods which you are not happy with, provided you return them within a seven day cooling off period. But consumers have no right to return goods they are not happy with, unless this was agreed at the time of purchase, or if the store has a specific returns policy; the seven day 'cooling-off period' applies to internet/mail order sales only.

Younger respondents (those between 16-24 years old) seem to have less awareness of their rights when buying goods in a sale – with only 26.3% knowing that you can only get a refund or exchange if goods are faulty, and 42.1% incorrectly thinking that there was a seven day cooling off period.
Purchases from the internet also seem to cause a degree of confusion. While 65.6% of respondents knew that there is a seven day cooling off period when you buy online, 16.7% incorrectly thought they could only get a refund if the goods were faulty, 6.1% thought they could only exchange the goods for something else, 3.5% thought they were not entitled to a refund and 2% thought they could not get a refund because they had accepted the goods. That means nearly a third of respondents would not have returned goods for a refund to which they were entitled.

The Distance Selling Regulations give consumers up to seven working days, starting with the day after the day they receive their goods, to return them if they are not happy for any reason. 73.7% of those aged between 16-24 were aware of the cooling-off period on the Internet compared with 61.8% of those aged between 35-44, however more of the 16-24 age group thought they were not entitled to a refund than any other age group.
The majority of consumers are aware that if they have a problem with an item they have purchased it is up to the retailer to sort out the problem. However just over 10% of those who were surveyed would believe a retailer who told them to go back to the manufacturer. When consumers buy goods which are not of satisfactory quality or are misdescribed it is the retailer's responsibility to sort out the problem. Even if the goods come with a guarantee, this is in addition to the consumers' rights and does not replace them, so unhappy consumers should always return to the place where they bought the goods in the first instance.
* Consumers have rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 when they buy goods and should not feel awkward returning goods which are faulty or misdescribed.

Notes for Editors:
For further information or to arrange an interview please contact Lizi Piggins at TSI press office on 08456089430 or

Trading Standards Institute (TSI)
TSI is a training and membership organisation that has represented the interests of the Trading Standards profession since 1881 nationally and internationally.  We aim to raise the profile of the profession while working towards fairer, better informed and safer consumer and business communities.
TSI’s members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities and in businesses.  We are also supporting the delivery of initiatives such as the advice services Consumer Direct, UK ECC and UK ECCS.