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Business Advice

'Lemon law' off to a smooth start

But retailers roll out new measures ahead of expected rise in complaints
The Straits Times - September 4, 2012
By: Jessica Lim & Amelia Tan
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'Lemon law' off to a smooth start Shoppers at Club 21 are asked to sign against a statement saying they have examined the product, while sales assistants at Isetan will get buyers to check the items before stamping their receipts. Over at Pois, buyers are required to sign on a receipt to

THE new "lemon law" made its mark on the retail scene over the weekend, with no glitches, said retailers.

A dozen of them, including major department stores like Takashimaya and retailers like Club 21, told The Straits Times that things went smoothly.

But many major retailers expect the number of repairs, replacements and returns to increase as shoppers become more aware of and familiar with the new law, which took effect last Saturday.

They are preparing for it by rolling out new measures.

At Club 21, buyers are asked to sign against a statement on an invoice. The same invoice is then signed by a store assistant.

The statement reads: "I've examined the product and confirmed it is of satisfactory quality, appearance and finish, and free from observable defects."

The multi-label luxury retailer said the new move did not result in a longer wait at the tills for buyers.

Department store Isetan will introduce a stamp for selected items, possibly branded goods and electronic items. Basically, its sales assistants will ask buyers to check their products. Receipts will be stamped once checks are done.

High-end boutique Pois requires buyers to sign on a receipt to show they have checked their items.

"Fashion is seasonal and we cannot get into a situation where customers buy an item that is in good condition, and later, come back to say it had a run in it, for example," said Pois' head of operations Sharon Ngan.

She added that no customers have complained as "people are well aware of and understand how the lemon law works".

Customers of luxury watch retailer Cortina will soon have to sign a document stating they have checked their purchases and ensured there are no visible defects.

The document will also indicate any defects on the watches, such as hairline cracks. It is proof that the customers found the items acceptable for sale, said Cortina senior sales executive Charlie See.

Under the new law, defective goods - or "lemons" - reported within six months of delivery are presumed to have the flaws at the time of delivery.

Buyers seeking recourse must follow a two-stage framework.

First, they can get the retailer to repair or replace the defective item.

If the retailer fails to do so "within a reasonable time or without significant inconvenience" to the consumer, the second stage kicks in.

In this situation, the buyer can keep the product but demand a discount, or return the product for a full refund.

Lawyers said the law cannot be overridden by "guarantees" like asking consumers to sign forms. However, these may give retailers a leg to stand on in a dispute, they added.

Lawyer Amolat Singh said: "There are some cases in which you need time to go home and check the product in detail. The law still stands."

Consumers interviewed said they will not use the law to ask for exchanges and refunds for all problematic products. They see it as a guarantee of post-sale service.

Ms Oleta Koh, 21, who is jobless, said: "Last time, I would not be able to get a shop to fix a pair of shoes if I had been wearing them for a week. Now, I can.

"And the shop should do so. A good pair should not break after being worn a few times."

Meanwhile, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) is ramping up its outreach and will distribute consumer guides at community centres and grassroots organisations in the next few weeks.

Its "frequently asked questions" on lemon law online have received 835 hits since last Saturday, and it has held nearly 40 lemon law seminars for consumers and retailers.

Mr Seah Seng Choon, its executive director, has advice for both groups. While consumers should read the details of the law to "exercise their rights appropriately", retailers should also review their sales processes.

"For instance, they should not put up blanket signs such as 'no refund' or 'no exchange'," he said.

Some answers from Case

CONSUMERS Association of Singapore (Case) executive directorSeah Seng Choon, on some scenarios:

  • If someone buys an item with no visible defects, can he still get recourse if a defect appears within six months of purchase?

Yes, if the defect was caused by a flaw already in the product at the point of sale or delivery. But the signing of checklists and invoices are effective in showing that the buyer was fully aware of any visible defects before the purchase.

  • Are perishable items included under the law?

Yes, perishables are included up to their expiry date.

  • If a buyer breaks a product after purchase, can he successfully ask for a repair, replacement or refund?

This depends on what caused the defect. He will not get recourse if the defect was caused by carelessness. The onus is on the retailer to prove, within six months, that the defect was not due to an existing flaw.

  • If the seller refuses to repair, replace or refund a faulty product, what next?

Approach Case for mediation or take the case to the Small Claims Tribunal.


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