Overseas grey markets and warranty
The situation with consumer protection is different if you’re buying from grey markets outside of Australia, such as purchasing from an overseas website.
Essentially there isn’t any definite warranty protection and it’s potluck if the manufacturer will be willing to repair one of these products, usually at the cost to you. It can be hard to press for a refund or replacement with a seller that isn’t local.
A look through the fine print on many tech companies’ websites shows a range of conditions and provisions for grey market products.
Some manufactures won’t provide support or service for products that haven’t been sold through the official outlets. Other manufacturers won’t allow downloads or updates for grey market products.
Many warn that the warranty registration card is usually printed in the local language, but if a product is onsold into another country this can make it difficult to register it and cause problems if service or replacement is required at a future date.
Some manufacturers refuse to provide power adaptors, cables or batteries that may be needed for some grey market products to operate if they’re manufactured for regions with different settings or networks.
If you run into problems with a product and find yourself with a non-responsive seller or a seller that’s gone out of business, there’s nothing preventing you from contacting the consumer rights agency in the country from which the product was purchased, if it has one.
Lodge a complain online and see if you can get a result (just don’t expect to get the attention you’d get dealing with the local authorities).
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission has an online complaints lodgment. The Hong Kong Consumer Council handles complaints about sellers and has an online lodgment site.
If a remedy isn’t available with a local seller or one of these consumer complaints agencies, then we’d suggest as a last resort to turn to eConsumer.
The eConsumer site is a cross-border consumer site that will investigate complaints about online overseas sellers and websites, and may be able to help you out.
Australian Consumer Guarantees
Your consumer rights are not limited to a set period. The consumer guarantees last for the length of time that is reasonable to expect given the cost and quality of the item and any promises and/or claims about the item.
The one-year manufacturer’s warranty is provided by the manufacturer and doesn’t limit or cancel your consumer guarantees, which are protected by the law.
Proof of purchase can include a credit card statement, lay-by agreement or warranty card that is signed and stamped as well as the purchase receipt as long as it shows where the item was purchased.
The consumer guarantees entitle you to a remedy that can be a repair to the faulty product, a direct replacement with the same thing, a refund for the amount paid or, in some cases, compensation for a drop in value of the product.
If an item was paid for in cash, the refund should be given in cash. Likewise if an item was paid for by credit card, the refund should be paid to the credit card.
These consumer guarantees are the same for goods purchased in a store or online.
If you buy overseas, however, these Australian consumer guarantees don’t automatically apply. There can be many difficulties in getting a refund or a replacement and you’ll probably have to pay to return the item, which can be expensive if it’s large or bulky and has to travel some distance.
If you buy at auction through an online marketplace, the seller is responsible for providing a remedy if something goes wrong and it’s not the responsibility of the website when it’s not acting as an agent.
There are usually no refunds or returns if something goes wrong with a product bought through a private auction, but the product must be as described.
[This is an edited extract from an article first published in the November 2012 issue of PC & Tech Authority]