Knowing Your Consumer Rights

Whether you're buying gifts, or shopping for yourself, you can avoid mistakes and save money if you know your rights as a consumer. Jody Rohlena, Senior Editor of ShopSmart Magazine, explains what those rights are, and the wrongs you should be aware of.

First, it's wrong to assume a store must honor a posted price. If a store marks a TV at $10.99, you won't be able to buy the $1099.00 TV for that price. It's an obvious error where someone put the decimal point in the wrong spot. But don't let that deter you. Talk to a sales person, point out the error, and see if they will work with you to reduce the price because of their mistake.

It's right to believe if you order something online, it should arrive on time. A store must alert you if an item you ordered isn't going to arrive on the promised date. This gives you the option of still having the item delivered, or cancelling your order.

If you pay for items with a credit card, it's also your right to dispute certain charges and get a refund. As a consumer, you have two categories under federal credit card chargeback rights. If you notice a billing error on your statement, you can request a refund within 60 days. The other category is called claims and defenses. This can be used when you cancel a sale directly with the seller for any legal reason, including bad merchandise.

It's also good to know stores DO NOT have to allow returns. Retailers can have any return policy they want, so long as their policy is clearly displayed to shoppers. However, if the product doesn't work or it isn't what you ordered, the store does have to take it back or replace the item.

Many consumers think once a warranty has expired, you're out of luck. However, this is wrong. Unless the store has a policy stating otherwise, purchased products have a state-mandated "implied warranty of merchantability." This means the product has to perform as expected.

And finally, you CAN use any parts or service providers you want without jeopardizing the manufacturer's warranty. Federal law prevents any manufacturer from requiring particular parts or service. However, the manufacturer doesn't have to cover damage that is caused by a third-party parts or service.

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by Jenn Eaker