The new ‘laptop’ complaint you need to know before buying any electronic device in South Africa

The Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO) recently released its report for the first quarter of 2018.

While the majority of the report focused on complaints received and addressed by the regulator in the first three months of the year, it also included an important case it dealt with, highlighting consumer rights with regards to electronic devices in South Africa, and buying online.

The case dealt with a complainant who purchased a laptop from the supplier online. The complainant paid for the laptop – however, it failed to turn on after delivery.

The complainant immediately returned the laptop, but the supplier refused to refund or replace the laptop, and instead insisted that the complainant keep the laptop or pay a 20% handling fee.

The supplier then tested the laptop at their office, where the laptop started up briefly and immediately shut down again. According to the supplier they only had to reset the BIOS and it further explained that their warranty only covers hardware defects and not software related issues.

The laptop restarted after the BIOS reset and is working with no fault. The supplier therefore argued that the laptop is not faulty and required the complainant to take the laptop back or pay a restocking fee.

The complainant believed that the laptop was defective and insisted on a refund, the supplier on the other hand advised that the problem with the laptop does not amount to a defect in terms of the CPA and did not require any repairs only a software update.


Defect

The CGSO decided to obtain the opinion of an independent inspector to determine if the laptop had a material defect as defined by section 53 of the Consumer Protection Act.

Section 53 of the CPA defines a defect as follows:

‘53. (1) (a) defect means—

(i) any material imperfection in the manufacture of the goods or components, or in performance of the services, that renders the goods or results of the service less acceptable than persons generally would be reasonably entitled to expect in the circumstances; or

(ii) any characteristic of the goods or components that renders the goods or components less useful, practicable or safe than persons generally would be reasonably entitled to expect in the circumstances.’

The independent inspector was not able to conclusively prove whether the complainant used the correct start up procedure or if the laptop was in fact defective.


Cooling-off

With regards to the charging of a handling fee, Section 44 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act provides for a 7-day cooling off period on all online transactions -no matter the reason.

It reads:

(1) A consumer is entitled to cancel without reason and without penalty any transaction and any related credit agreement for the supply-
(a) of goods within seven days after the date of the receipt of the goods; or
(b) of services within seven days after the date of the conclusion of the agreement.

(2) The only charge that may be levied on the consumer is the direct cost of returning the goods.

(3) If payment for the goods or services has been effected prior to a consumer exercising a right referred to in subsection (1), the consumer is entitled to a full refund of such payment, which refund must be made within 30 days of the date of cancellation.

(4) This section must not be construed as prejudicing the rights of a consumer provided for in any other law.’

“This section further provides that the complainant is only liable for the direct cost of returning the goods. The complainant did return the goods at his own cost and we therefore recommended that the supplier refund the complainant in full,” said the CGSO.

The supplier accepted the recommendation and refunded the complainant in full.


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The new ‘laptop’ complaint you need to know before buying any electronic device in South Africa