How to complain effectively about bad goods
Complaining. It’s not something many of us actually enjoy doing, except maybe your Aunty Elaine who will complain about her ice-cream being too cold. But if you’ve been given a rough deal in the marketplace it’s probably something you should be doing more of.
If you do complain about goods you’ve bought you’ll find that most businesses will make an effort to sort out any problems quickly. It’s good public relations for them.
We all know that word-of-mouth is a powerful tool so many traders will go out of their way to satisfy their customers if things go wrong. But if a trader is not willing to help what can you do? What are your rights?
Check out your rights
So you’ve returned home from a mammoth Saturday afternoon shopping spree in town, your credit card smoking at the edges and a wad of receipts in your pocket.
You plug in your brand new $200 radio and all is good as you boogie on down to Wellington’s Classic Hits. But a couple of weeks later the dial falls off your new boom box. Right, you’ve got a problem here. What can you do about it?
Well, the first thing you should do is check out your rights. Information is available on the Ministry of Consumer Affairs’ website or from your local Citizens Advice Bureau about the Fair Trading Act and the Consumer Guarantees Act. These are two of the key pieces of legislation that are designed to protect consumers’ rights.
In this case the Consumer Guarantees Act would come into play. Part of the Act says that goods bought must be ‘durable’, meaning that they will last for a reasonable time. But the term ‘reasonable time’ depends on the price you paid. You wouldn’t expect a $2 radio to last long, but in this case a $200 radio should last a while. You also need to take into account anything the sales rep said about the goods you bought and anything written on the packaging or the item itself.
If you’ve got anything in writing, like your receipt, keep it. Write down the facts of your complaint and know what your rights are.
Then go and visit the trader. Be polite, but also be firm and clear. Some traders will have a policy of refunding your money or replacing the goods straight away. If this isn’t the case then ask to speak to the manager or owner of the business. Tell them what is wrong and what you want done about it. For example, “I bought this radio two weeks ago and the dial has come off. If you can fix it within a week that will be fine, otherwise I want my money back.”
Try not to get into arguments about whose fault the problem is and don’t lose your temper. It’s not good for the blood pressure of either you or the trader. Also, don’t let the trader say the goods have to go back to the manufacturer; the trader has a responsibility to get the problem fixed.
Making a written complaint
If you bought the goods somewhere other than your home town you can always try to return the goods to a branch closer to your home, most will be able to help you.
But if this isn’t practical you may have to write a letter to the trader. Keep a copy of the letter and only send photocopies of any accompanying documents in case the originals get lost.
In your letter you should include: what the product was and how much it cost; where and when you purchased it; what the problem is; what you want done about it and when you want a reply by.
Keep the tone formal but not aggressive or too emotive. Try not to launch into a rant and stick to the facts.
Taking a complaint further
If you’ve had no luck with your visit to the trader or not heard back from a letter you’ve sent you can consider taking your complaint to one of the following:
- Trader organisations – A lot of traders belong to organisations for their industry. Some of these will have a complaints handling service to sort out your complaint. This is helpful if your complaint is about how a trader treated you or handled your complaint. There’s often no charge to use this type of service.
- Disputes Tribunals – A tribunal can hear claims about a breach of contract, the Consumers Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act. The Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal can hear claims about dodgy used vehicles bought from licensed dealers. Details of these are on our website.
- Going to the media – If the matter can’t be heard by the Disputes Tribunal and you’ve done all you can to resolve a complaint then you may wish to approach the media. Normally this is a last resort for people who think that others could learn from their experience.
Our website contains further information on making a complaint.