Expensive consumer products, whether cards, furniture, technology or appliances, usually come with a warranty, often for one or two years. Many people believe that this is the end of the story. If the thing fails or breaks down once the warranty has expired, there is no cover for the purchaser.
This belief is further underlined in the shop where you may be asked whether you wish to purchase an “extended warranty”, offering cover from two to up to five years. The implication, that if you do not purchase this extension you are not covered beyond the basic warranty, is clear.
It is also false. I have never yet come across a retailer that tells the truth to consumers: that they are covered for an extended period by a very powerful piece of legislation known as the Consumer Guarantees Act.
New Zealand law states that if someone buys a new product for personal use, that product must be ‘fit for purpose’. This means that regardless of the so-called warranty, if an item fails before its expected span of useful life, it must be repaired or replaced by the retailer (or, in certain cases, by the manufacturer).
Because retailers do not advise consumers of their rights under the Act, it is as likely as not that people do not know about the immense power of the Consumer Guarantees Act.
Those who do know, and try to get a repair under the Act when an item becomes faulty, often face obfuscation or even downright lies. Fortunately, there is enough information online that many consumers can work through this. Of course, for disenfranchised people without knowledge of the Act or access to the internet, it is a different story.
I had reason to test the Consumer Guarantees Act recently. My Samsung TV developed a large ‘purple spot’, or dead pixels, on the screen. I googled purple spot and found complaints from all over the world – this is clearly a fault that LED TVs get quite frequently, and is a manufacturer problem.
My TV was just on three years old. As a rule of thumb, you can expect your large appliance or technology item to be ‘fit for purpose’ for about five years or even longer in some cases. And a purple blob on the screen is not really acceptable.
I purchased the TV from Dick Smith, a couple of weeks before that chain folded at the end of 2015. Not knowing who to contact, I emailed Samsung’s customer service centre. They requested further information and proof of purchase, which I was able to provide (keep your receipts, always – although good retailers will also have your record in the system).
The next thing was I got a phone call from a repairer called Matt, who said Samsung had asked him to pick up the TV for assessment. He came in with a smile, picked up the TV and left a spare (all connected up). He told me that Samsung does usually provide a replacement for the purple spot problem, and that this would involve a completely new screen, including the frame.
He told me he would send through information once the assessment was made, and I would have to approach Samsung to formally request a replacement.
I didn’t hear anything for three weeks, and was beginning to worry. Matt-with-a-smile had left no documentation – had I been conned? However, I then got a call from ‘Colin’ who had been tasked with returning my TV. I was a bit puzzled – why return it when it was going to be repaired? Colin assured me that it must be repaired as they were not in the habit of returning faulty appliances.
So ‘Colin’ arrived with my TV, plugged it in and – a beautiful new screen! It looked amazing, much better than I remembered (I think the whole screen had faded out somewhat). He checked all the connections, linked the TV up to the internet, and took the loan TV away with a smile. Such excellent service.
A few days later I received a text from Samsung noting my TV had been repaired and, if I had any problems, call them. I also received a phone call from Samsung in Adelaide, taking me through a customer service survey on the repairs. How was it for me? Fine, thanks. Excellent!
I have now seen what high-quality consumer service can look like under the Act. It is prompt action, acknowledgement of the legislation, and good repair. But I suspect, though I may be wrong, that my experience might be rather rare – or maybe not.
One thing I would like to see is the Act amended to require retailers to provide information about the Act at point of sale. They should say “Your TV comes with a one year warranty but you can expect it to perform perfectly for at least five years, unless you damage it. If you have a problem in that time, let us know immediately”. Don’t ya think?
Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research. Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).