Consumers have come to expect stores or catalog companies to offer a refund, credit or exchange when they return items. Sellers are not required by law to accept returned items unless they are defective. However, California law requires that retailers who have a policy of not providing a cash refund, credit or exchange when an item is returned with proof of purchase within 7 days of purchase must inform consumers about their refund policies by conspicuously placing a written notice about their policies, in language that consumers can understand, so that it can be easily seen and read. Some companies may limit exchanges or returns for credit or refunds on all, or some products. Some may not allow exchanges or returns for credit or refunds at all. But whatever the limitation, it must be conspicuously disclosed. Before making a purchase, carefully check the store's policy.
The policy must be displayed either at each entrance to the store, at each cash register and sales counter, on tags attached to each item, or on the company's order forms, if any. A return policy printed only on a receipt, for example, is not sufficient.
If a store violates this law (California Civil Code section 1723), the purchaser can return an item for a full refund within 30 days of purchase.
There are exceptions, however to the general rule requiring notice. Notices are not required for sale of perishable goods like food or plants; for items marked, "All sales final," or something similar; for items which are used or damaged; for items customized for the consumer and received as ordered; for items which cannot be resold for health reasons; or for items not returned in their original packaging.
Some stores keep records of consumers who frequently return merchandise and sometimes report that to a central reporting company and may not offer returns or refunds to such customers. The return policy notice must refer to such practice.
Consumers who believe a retailer has violated the law can notify the consumer protection division of their local district attorney's office or by filing a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.
California law requires retailers who advertise discounts or product specials to have enough products available to meet the expected demand or to provide a substitute product of comparable value at the advertised price.
If only limited quantities of advertised specials are to be made available, or if the advertised product will not be available at all store locations, the retailer must disclose that information in its advertising.
Sometimes consumer demand is greater than a retail advertiser could have reasonably anticipated and the company runs out of the advertised product and cannot substitute a product of comparable value. Although not generally required by state law, some retailers will issue rain checks (promising to provide the goods at the advertised price in the future) in order to preserve good customer relations. However, rain checks are not an adequate substitute for a shortage of the advertised goods.
In one situation, California law says rain checks are required. If a company offers a gift or a prize to get a consumer to come to a sales presentation and, despite the seller's good faith effort to have a sufficient number of gifts or prizes on hand to meet the expected demand the gift or prize is no longer available, the company must either give the consumer a comparable substitute or deliver the promised gift or prize to the consumer's address at no extra charge within a reasonable period of time, but no longer than 80 days from when the consumer attended the sales presentation.