When is a sale, not a sale?
If a shop is advertising a sale, it has to comply with requirements set out in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Government guidelines set out steps a retailer should take to comply with these regulations and ensure claimed savings are genuine and aren’t misleading customers.
It can be tricky to figure out if an offer is genuine or not, and the rules aren't that helpful.
The law, as contained in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, simply says that if a product is on sale or special offer, the retailer must show the original price and it must have been selling at that price for 'a meaningful period of time'.
In practice this usually means that the discount must be available for the same period of time or less than the product was sold at the higher price.
These are some of the things to look out for when shopping in a sale:
- The basis for the saving must be clear. For example, a sign shouldn't just say 'sale £15' – it should say something like 'was £50, sale price £15'.
- If there’s a promotional offer on an item, the price the item is being compared to must be genuine. If the higher price it’s being compared to was the last price the item was retailing at or the 'was/sale price' promotion hasn’t run for any longer than the item was being sold at the 'was' price, this promotional offer is more likely to be genuine.
- A multi-buy (three for the price of two, for example) or combination offer (any three items from a range of options for £5, for example) should be cheaper than the total cost of buying the same items separately.
Additionally, Trading Standards advises retailers to make it clear when a comparison price is actually the recommended retail price (RRP) because the retailer may never have charged that price. The RRP can’t differ significantly from the price that the product or service is generally sold.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 can also apply where retailers leave out important information or present it in a way that hides or disguises it from you – if it’s ambiguous or not provided at an appropriate time, for example.
The regulations also give you the right to either a refund or discount. But in order for this to apply, you have to be able to show that the misleading offer was a significant factor in encouraging you to make a purchase.
Returning non-faulty goods bought on sale
If you change your mind about a product you have bought in-store, or you just don't like a gift, you may not be entitled to return it.
You can only return non-faulty goods bought in-store for an exchange or refund if the retailer has a returns policy. Shops don't have to have a returns policy for purchases made in store, but if they have one they must stick to it.
Shops often place restrictions on returning sale items, so check the returns policy before buying. Most retailers impose time limits for returning non-faulty goods, such as 28 days.
Returning faulty goods bought on sale
If you buy something that's faulty, regardless of whether you bought it in a sale, you have the right to return it under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
The Consumer Rights Act applies to all purchases made on or after 1 October 2015. For purchases made before this date, the Sale of Goods Act 1979 applies.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 says that sale and non-sale items must be:
- as described
- of satisfactory quality
- fit for purpose
If sale goods are faulty you have the right to a replacement or repair, or if you're returning something faulty you bought in a sale within 30 days you could ask to be reimbursed the full amount you paid. A retailer cannot try to limit these rights in sales.
However, you can't claim under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 for faults you were told about before you bought the item - sometimes the fault is the reason for the product being on sale in the first place.
Returning sale goods online
If you buy items in an online sale, you usually have additional rights to return them under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013.
The Consumer Contracts Regulations replaced the Distance Selling Regulations in June 2014.
You can cancel most orders for goods bought online anytime from the moment you place your order up to 14 calendar days from the day you receive it.
You are responsible for returning the goods within 14 calendar days of when you cancel, and refunds must be paid within 14 calendar days after the return of the goods (or after evidence is provided that they were returned).
There are some orders where you won't have the right to cancel, which you can read about in our guide on cancelling online orders.