IN YOUR CORNER
Crocs SA’s Ts and Cs have holes in them
The Consumer Protection Act trumps a company’s terms and conditions, a fact Crocs overlooked
I care deeply about what people think of my work and my professional ethics, and little to zero about people’s opinions on what I choose to drive or wear.
Hence I drive a teenage Subaru and own about 10 pairs of Crocs. Wellies, slops, “takkies”, pumps – everything but those iconic, oversized holey clog things on which the universal Crocs hate is focused.
They’re lightweight – perfect for travel – super comfortable, and clearly I don’t think the styles I’ve bought look gross.
I think it’s fair to say I’m well-disposed towards the brand. Or was.
I signed up for Crocs SA’s online retail marketing e-mails some time ago, but while I read most of them and check out the specials, I’ve never bought any of their shoes online.
So I never realised their online Ts and Cs weren’t entirely legally compliant.
That is until I got an email from Jane Turner of Rondebosch, complaining that she’d ordered an “on promotion” pair of Crocs sandals online, but immediately regretted it, and when they were delivered, she informed the company in writing that she wanted to cancel the deal and return the shoes for a refund.
She’d actually tried to cancel the order before the sandals were dispatched, but was told that wasn’t possible.
Crocs SA told Turner she wouldn’t be getting a refund, and pointed to the terms and conditions on their website, which included: “No refunds on sale items.”
She was offered a voucher to the value of her sandals instead.
Now, had Jane bought those sandals in a Crocs store, she would have had no right of return at all, given that they were not defective.
But when you buy something as a result of direct marketing – and that includes getting an e-mail advertising items on sale – the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) allows you a “cooling off” period of five business days in which to cancel for a full refund, provided you are willing to pay for the return of the unwanted goods.
No can do, Turner was told by a Crocs SA representative.
“We do understand your frustration and concerns,” she said. “However we can assure you that our return policies and Ts and Cs created for special promotions are aligned with the CPA.
“Please see below where it states that as long as the company clearly states the return policy on their promos, they fall within the CPA.”
Um, no, that’s not what the CPA states. This is the paragraph she referred to. “The rights of the return of the CPA are in addition to any other right in law between a supplier and a consumer to return goods for a refund.”
The self-serving misinterpretation is astounding.
The fact is that the CPA trumps a company’s terms and conditions. If they don’t align with the act, they are invalid.
At that point, Turner turned to me for help.
And I, in turn, ran the case past the ever-helpful Bonita Hughes, complaints manager at the consumer goods and services ombud.
She confirmed that online purchases were covered not by the CPA but the Electronic Communications Transactions Act (ECTA), and while the CPA’s cooling off right is specifically excluded from online transactions, section 44 of the ECTA does apply, and it allows consumers to “cancel without reason and without penalty any transaction and any related credit agreement for the supply of goods within seven days after the date of the receipt of the goods or services within seven days after the date of the conclusion of the agreement”.
And as with the CPA’s cooling off period, the consumer must bear the cost of returning the goods.
“The supplier’s terms and conditions cannot be contrary to the law,” Hughes said.
And sale items are not excluded from that right to return goods within a week of buying them online.
My questions to Crocs SA, sent via e-mail on March 13, were: is the company willing to refund Jane Turner if she returns the shoes, and will it amend its policy so as to be legally compliant?
Shortly afterwards, the woman who dealt with Turner got back to her to say: “We have looked at your request again and decided to honour your refund for the amount paid for the shoes.”
Good save, but while I was assured, after some prodding, that the “relevant department” would respond to my query, that has yet to happen, three weeks on.
And their website still states this: “Items marked as ‘SALE’ may not be refunded, but we will happily exchange the product at the sale price paid only.”Here’s the thing – it’s in companies’ after-sales interactions with their customers that their true regard for them is revealed.Turner was deeply unimpressed that she only got what she was legally entitled to after my intervention, and the experience has soured her impression of the brand.As has mine. What you think of a product is a matter of personal taste. But when it comes to policies and service, the tick boxes are universal.Know and apply the laws relevant to your business; be accessible and responsive to the public and the media, admit when you’ve got it wrong and take immediate steps to remedy it.