Inspection fees, postage for returns, expired warranties — how to handle common problems if electronic products break or don't work.

You don't have to accept store credit for a faulty device or appliance. Instead you should get a refund, repair or replacement if you bought it from a business selling in New Zealand. With overseas online retailers, it might be harder to sort out any problems.

If your device or appliance doesn't work properly, it doesn't have to be in its original packaging to get a refund.

You may need to pay postage or courier fees to return it. These costs are refundable, unless it turns out that the consumer guarantees have not been breached (e.g. you caused the damage yourself).

If the consumer guarantees have not been breached, you may also be required to pay an inspection fee or a call-out fee for a repairer to check larger products, e.g. a fridge or TV, in addition to cost of any repair itself.

The retailer cannot require you to make these payments before it provides a remedy under the CGA.

If your phone or computer doesn't work, check first if it's a problem with your internet connection or digital file(s), eg software, music, e-book.

Streaming and downloads

Your rights if something goes wrong

If there’s a problem with your device or appliance, the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) says you can get a refund, repair or replacement if:

  • it's faulty
  • you bought it from a business selling in New Zealand in-store or online.

The CGA says products should be:

  • of acceptable quality — safe, in good condition, and in good working order for a reasonable time period
  • fit for purpose — it does what it's meant to do, including anything specific you told the retailer before buying it
  • as described — match the description or anything the retailer said about it.

If your gadget or appliance doesn't meet these guarantees, go back to the seller to ask for a remedy — a repair, replacement or refund.

The retailer decides which to offer if the problem can be fixed.

You choose the remedy if one or more of these apply:

  • the problem can't be fixed
  • the problem is of "substantial character", eg unsafe
  • the retailer takes too long to act on your complaint.

CGA: Failure of substantial character(external link) —

Replacements must be like-for-like of similar value, eg a TV with similar screen size and picture quality.

Store credit and vouchers are not acceptable remedies for faulty products. It's your right to say no if these are offered.

Refund, replacement, repair

Example — Dirty overalls

Builder Bryce tells a salesperson he needs a washing machine robust enough to clean five sets of filthy overalls each weekend. But his new washing machine never gets the overalls clean. Bryce explains the problem to the store manager, including how he asked about heavy-duty washers before buying. The manager agrees that type of washing machine isn't suitable and gives him a refund. Bryce uses the money to buy a more robust model.

Example — Replacement baby monitor

New mum Tania buys a baby monitor online. It's faulty. Tania needs the monitor each time her newborn sleeps, which is several times a day. She doesn't want to wait the time it would take to post it back and be sent a replacement. She contacts the retailer to ask if she can return the faulty monitor to one of their stores, and get a replacement on the spot. She can do this because it's the same company online and in-store.

Your fault, you pay

The Consumer Guarantees Act doesn't protect you from accidental or deliberate damage. If you caused the problem — or it was damaged while in your care, eg by your child — you must pay for any repairs or replacements. Examples include:

  • dropping your phone
  • spilling coffee over a keyboard
  • knocking over a flatscreen TV
  • laptop left on a bus
  • failing to follow instructions and damaging your dishwasher.

You might be able to claim on your contents insurance.

Retailers also don't have to give a remedy if something beyond their control caused the problem, eg an earthquake.

How to complain

Your rights with common problems

Common problems include:

The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) says products must last a reasonable amount of time. What's reasonable is generally longer than the manufacturer's warranty that can come free with new products.

So even if the manufacturer's warranty has expired, you might still be entitled to a repair, refund or replacement for a faulty device or appliance.

Only consider buying an extended warranty if it offers extra protection — above what you get in the CGA.

Extended warranties examples

Because electronics and appliances can be expensive to repair or replace, the retailer might ask you to pay an inspection fee. If this shows your product has a genuine fault, this money should be refunded.

Faulty products

But if you broke it — or it's wear and tear from normal use, eg flat batteries in TV remote control — it's up to you to cover any costs.

Repair damage after normal use

It's the buyer's responsibility to return a faulty product for inspection, and to cover any costs — unless returning it will be difficult or expensive.

If it is faulty, the business should repay the postage/delivery costs, then provide a repair, refund or replacement.

Some retailers offer free returns — check the returns policy on their website or on your receipt. But if you bought from an overseas seller, you will generally have to pay international delivery costs for any returns.

A faulty product does not have to be in its original packaging to get a refund.

If the seller makes a mistake, eg sending the wrong laptop model, they must cover any costs to collect it and give you the right product.

But the seller doesn't have to accept a return if you either:

  • change your mind
  • make a mistake when ordering, eg clicking "buy" on the wrong laptop or mismeasuring the space for a new fridge.

You can ask to return it. If the seller agrees, you pay any delivery costs.

Misordering is a common problem, particularly with online sales. It's a good idea to double-check before you pay, and before you accept deliveries.

If a fault leads directly to another problem, you might be able to claim compensation from the retailer that sold you the product.

Examples of costs you might be able to claim include:

  • replacing food that spoils in a faulty freezer
  • cleaning stains off clothes or furniture from a leaking battery
  • recovering lost computer files.

Other common problems, with tips on how to handle them:

Delivery issues

Misleading prices or advertising

If you or a repairer try to fix the device or appliance first, you might lose your right to a refund, repair or replacement.

What to do if you have a problem

1. Contact the retailer first

Get in touch with the retailer you bought it from. If it is run by the same company, it can be a different store in the same chain. But you can't expect a different business to put it right.

  • If you bought online, the website should explain the complaints process.
  • If you bought in-store, speak to the manager, not the first salesperson you see.

Honestly describe the problem and answer any questions. Give the retailer time to look into your complaint. It's their right to check if it's a genuine problem.

You're more likely to get a good result armed with the facts. Make sure you:

  • Know your rights — read Your rights if something goes wrong.
  • Think about what you're going to say and how you will say it.

How to complain

icon manufacturer or business

Where do you go?

If your phone suddenly stops working, do you have to contact the manufacturer to put it right?

No! If you have an issue with a product you’ve bought, you can go back to the shop you purchased it from. You don’t need to go directly to the manufacturer. If required, the shop will do this on your behalf.

Make sure you’ve been using it the way it was intended though!

Example — Unfair expectations

Daisy thinks her 18-month-old games console is faulty. She decides to return it. She picks the most expensive of the latest models and takes it to the till. Daisy tells the sales assistant it's a free replacement for a faulty console. The assistant looks uncertain, so the store manager steps in. The manager explains Daisy's console must first be checked. This is fair. If it is faulty and can't be fixed, Daisy can get a similar model as a replacement — not the most expensive one in the shop.

Example — Unfair fee on refund

Hemi returns a faulty monitor to the store. The manager agrees the fault is serious and the monitor can't be repaired. She offers Hemi a refund, minus a $250 fee for restocking. Hemi doesn't think this sounds fair. He calls Consumer Protection's contact centre to check. He finds out that because it's faulty, the store must give him a full refund, or a replacement monitor at no extra cost.

2. Go to the Disputes Tribunal

If you cannot reach an agreement with the retailer you can go to the Disputes Tribunal. They can order the retailer to:

  • repair your appliance or device
  • give you a replacement
  • refund your money
  • compensate any loss, eg spoilt food due to a faulty fridge.

About the Tribunal(external link) — Disputes Tribunal

More help

For support at any point contact:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) — 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 — 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.

Find a CAB(external link) — Citizens Advice Bureau

Our law centres(external link) — Community Law Centres