​Before a big purchase, work out what you need. Then research products, prices and suppliers to reduce your chance of issues.

Before you buy anything, and especially anything worth a lot of money, spend some time working out exactly what you need, and which product or service will meet those needs. Do as much research as you can, and try to take your time before making a decision.

To make the best choice and ensure you are covered by consumer laws, follow these steps.


1. Define your needs

Be clear about what you need to buy and why you need it. You should:

  • Know the main thing you need the product or service to do.
  • List your wants and needs and and decide which are essentials and which are nice-to-haves.
  • Have an idea of how much you are willing to spend.
  • Work out what questions you need to ask a salesperson before you make the purchase.

2. Find the right product or service

Once you know exactly what your needs are, spend some time working out which product or service will meet those needs. Choosing a product or service that's not quite right can be costly, because you usually can't just return it if you change your mind. Make sure that the product or service you choose:

  • does what you need it to do
  • is meant to be used the way you intend to use it.

Change of mind


3. Check reviews

Identify potential products or suppliers that could meet your needs, then check out what's been said about them by others. You could:

  • Search online for reviews — but remember not all online reviews are genuine.
  • Ask for recommendations from people you know.
  • Read reviews in specialty websites or publications.

Make sure you also find a reputable retailer or service provider. This could mean:

  • Look for signs of a seller’s good reputation, eg licensed trades people, authenticated sellers with lots of positive feedback on Trade Me.
  • Buy from registered businesses based in New Zealand — it's harder to claim your consumer rights with overseas businesses.
  • Weigh up the risks of buying from a private seller — you’ll have fewer protections under consumer law if there’s a fault or issue later on.

How to avoid scams

Private sales and second-hand goods

Take care if buying from a mobile trader or truck shop — the Commerce Commission has found some of these traders have acted unfairly.

Truck shops


4. Compare prices and shop around

If you are buying a service, ask for a quote or estimate from at least three different suppliers. If you are buying a product, start with an online search. Comparison websites can help you with this.

Quotes and estimates

Before you make a purchase, you should also:

  • Talk to the business about what you need the product or service for. Be as specific as possible. This will help them advise you on whether the product or service will meet your needs.
  • Inspect the product as thoroughly as possible. It should be of acceptable quality, so check for any signs of damage.
  • Ask the seller if there’s anything you should be aware of about a product’s condition or the way a service is provided.
  • Ask questions. Be sure the seller addresses all your questions or concerns. If you have any doubts, you have a right to walk away. No one can force you to buy anything.
  • Read the sales contract and terms and conditions. If you are buying online, pay particular attention to privacy policies. If there's something you don't understand, ask the business to explain — or get free advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
  • Make sure the price tag matches the price at the till — or the agreed price is written down. If you are buying online, make sure the payment method is secure.
  • For services, agree and write down how long a service should take, and when it should be completed by.
  • Ask about any return or cancellation policies — or what happens if something goes wrong and it’s not your fault. Some retailers and service providers have their own policies that offer options over and above the law.
  • Make sure you get copies of important documents, eg:
    • receipts
    • contracts
    • warranty information
    • instruction manuals.
  • If you buy from a private seller, consider drawing up your own sales agreement.

Buying smart: Tips before, during and after you shop


5. Know your rights

If you buy from a New Zealand trader, you are covered by our consumer laws, including the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) and the Fair Trading Act (FTA). These laws require businesses to do things like:

  • sell products and services of acceptable quality
  • be truthful in advertising and other descriptions
  • meet product safety rules.

If something goes wrong, it's your right to ask for a repair, replacement or refund.

Consumer laws