A business usually doesn’t have to let you return an item you have simply changed your mind about.
Usually when you buy a product or service, the sale is final unless the item breaches a guarantee under the Consumer Guarantees Act. The retailer doesn't have to give you a refund or exchange if:
- you change your mind
- your circumstances change
- you find cheaper products elsewhere.
When you can return products you have changed your mind about
If the store's returns policy allows it
Some stores have their own in-store policy to offer a refund, exchange or credit note for ‘change-of-mind’ purchases. Check the retailer’s returns policy or terms and conditions before you buy. Retailers can choose not to include items on special or on sale in their refund policy, eg 'no change of mind refunds on sale items'.
If you have an exchange card
If you buy a gift, you can ask for an exchange card to give with it. That way, if the recipient doesn’t like the gift, they can go back to the shop or online store and exchange it.
Exchange cards usually have an expiry date. This date is important to know because a shop or online store is not obliged to honour an exchange card after that date.
If you booked an appointment that hasn't happened yet
If you made a booking or appointment for something in advance, you may be able to cancel it and get a refund. Read the service provider’s contract or their terms and conditions to check what the rules are. Sometimes you will be charged a cancellation fee, especially if you cancel at short notice.
If you cancel a service, booking or appointment before it is due, you’re breaking a contract. If the service provider suffers a loss because you have cancelled, they are entitled to still charge you for at least some of the cost of the service.
If you bought 'on appro'
Cash approval, or buying products ‘on appro’, means you can take the products home without committing to buying them. Discuss the terms and conditions of buying 'on appro' with the store before taking any items home.
Usually you pay for the products, but you can return them in the same condition for a full refund within a specified amount of time. Not all stores offer this service, and you'll need to ask for it. If you damage the products while you have them 'on appro' the shop can make you pay for the damage, or insist that you buy the products.
If the sale is covered by a cooling off period
Some types of sales have special legal protections under the Fair Trading Act to allow you to change your mind after the sale. This is known as the 'cooling off period'. This includes:
- layby sales
- unsolicited products and services
- door to door sales.
Laybys and buy now, pay later
Telemarketing and door-to-door sales
Your rights if you change your mind about a purchase
If you change your mind about a product or service, you’re not automatically entitled to a refund or exchange.
A retailer may let you return a product for a cash refund, an exchange or a credit note as part of their terms of trade. Ask the retailer directly if you're unsure what their returns policy is.
Cancelling a contract
Usually once you have agreed on a contract, whether it is for a service to be provided or a credit sale, you are bound by it. If you don’t want to carry on with the contract or you don’t comply with your obligations under the contract, you will be in breach of contract.
Contracts and sales agreements
If things go wrong
Go back to the business or seller to sort out the problem first. It will help if the product you have changed your mind about is still in its original state and you have a receipt, bank statement or other evidence (such as original packaging) as proof of purchase.
The seller might offer you a credit note instead of giving you a refund.
If you can’t resolve your issue directly with the business, the Disputes Tribunal or District Court may be your next step.
Get support at any point from:
- Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) – this is a free, independent service, run by volunteers. CAB can advise you on your consumer rights and obligations, in person, by phone, or online.
- Community Law Centre – this service offers free one-on-one legal advice to people with limited finances. The organisation has 24 community law centres throughout the country. You can find legal information and other resources on its website.
A CAB near you(external link) – Citizens Advice Bureau
Our law centres(external link) – Community Law Centres
Example — Reason for return
Pita buys a large-screen smart TV which has the ability to surf the internet. Pita buys the TV expecting he’ll just have to turn the TV to be able to connect to the internet. He didn’t realise he also needs a connection to the internet through an internet service provider. His issue is not covered under the Consumer Guarantees Act.
Example — Partner doesn’t want the smartphone
Mary bought a smartphone for her partner from a big retailer, and it is not what he wanted. She can’t return it unless the retailer has a returns policy that allows this.
Example — Can’t afford a purchase on Trade Me
Amipa hits ‘Buy now’ on Trade Me for a second-hand computer sold by Grant. The next day Amipa loses her job so she can’t afford to pay for it. She’ll have to contact Grant to see if he will agree to cancel the sale. It’s a binding sale contract so he can refuse if he wants to.
Example — Better deal elsewhere
Fred buys some cheap headphones through an online website. Afterwards, he finds out that once he includes the delivery costs, they’re more expensive than if he had bought them in a local shop. He wants to cancel the sale but unless the website terms and conditions have a refund policy that allows this, he won’t be able to. However, he can challenge the sale in the Disputes Tribunal if the advertising was misleading.
Example — Cooling off period
Jenny has a monthly text and calling plan with her mobile phone company. A sales representative from her phone company calls her and offers her a new phone — but only if she upgrades her plan to a more expensive data package. Jenny agrees to upgrade her plan. This is not a renewal agreement as key terms of the contract (prices and services) have changed. She can cancel this plan within five working days to receive a full refund and ask the company to collect the phone if she changes her mind.