Victoria Kay
Interbride Messe GmbH
DHJ Weisters Ltd
Colin Ross

As a bridal retailer, what happens if a customer wants to return an item?

What are your rights and obligations if a customer wants to return an item they have purchased from you?

You've probably seen it all when it comes to customer problems in the run up to a wedding. After all, there are so many variables and so much pressure for the day to be 'perfect'. It's also a costly exercise, so not only does the consumer want their purchases to be perfect, it's also unlikely you can afford to take a big hit on high-value items, such as bridal gowns. But what are your rights and obligations if a customer changes their mind?

As a bridal retailer, what happens if a customer wants to return an item?: Image 1
We asked Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) for her advice regarding who's in the right in the world of retail...

You've probably seen it all when it comes to customer problems in the run up to a wedding. After all, there are so many variables and so much pressure for the day to be 'perfect'. It's also a costly exercise, so not only does the consumer want their purchases to be perfect, it's also unlikely you can afford to take a big hit on high-value items, such as bridal gowns. But what are your rights and obligations if a customer changes their mind?

In short, the answer is that, without a receipt there's not a lot the customer can do. However, assuming they're sensible enough to keep the receipt, then that's a whole different ball game.

When it comes to 'the dress', for example, if they bought it off-the-shelf and have the receipt, provided they have not worn the gown and it's in good condition and is within a reasonable time (set by you, the retailer), they have a right to return it and get a refund.

A new statute was introduced known as the Consumer Rights Act 2015 which became law on 1st October 2015. This statute was specifically introduced to simplify, strengthen and modernise the law, giving the consumer clearer shopping rights.

Whether you should give a refund on a bridal gown or other item depends on the quality of the item. It must be of:

Satisfactory quality
Products shouldn't come faulty or damaged (unless clearly stated). It largely depends on the item: Luxury products tend to be held to a higher standard than bargain store items. 

Fit for purpose
If the item doesn't do what it should, then it's not fit for purpose. If, before buying, you informed the buyer of a novel use for the item and assured them it would still work, but it doesn't, that also counts as not-fit-for-purpose. 

As described
If the product is different from the description provided or models or samples shown before purchase, then it's not as described. 

If the item the purchaser is returning doesn't meet any of the criteria above, then they have a strong claim under the Consumer Rights Act. It's also up to you, the seller, to fix the problem, and excuses about sending it back to the manufacturer won't do.

30-day right to reject
Within 30 days of taking ownership is when the buyer has the greatest level of consumer protection. If any product falls short of the three criteria above, it can be returned with a receipt within 30 days for a full refund. 

Over 30 days – repair or replace
Just because the buyer is outside the 30-day window, it doesn't mean they have no claim if the product is unsatisfactory, faulty, unfit for purpose or not-as-described. The buyer must allow you the opportunity to repair or replace the product. They can only claim a refund or discount if your attempt to repair the item is unsuccessful or you're unable to replace the faulty item.

Within six months
Faults sometimes take a few months to develop. As long as it's within six months of the purchaser receiving the item, it's assumed that the problem was always there and the seller is responsible for repairing or replacing the item. Of course, if the buyer wants to keep the product anyway, you can always offer a discount instead. 

Over six months
While trickier to prove, a buyer can still make a return claim after six months. They'll need to show that the item was faulty when it arrived, which may require an expert report or other evidence. 

We all know about "Bridezillas" so for particularly difficult customers, it's always worth mentioning that you know your (and their) rights under the 2015 Consumer Rights Act... that will sometimes do the trick. If they are being particularly stubborn and troublesome, then you may need legal advice. A qualified and licensed Paralegal is probably your best bet but ensure your paralegal is registered with a professional membership body, such as the National Association of Licenced Paralegals.