Australia’s competition and consumer watchdog has taken Booktopia to court over alleged false or misleading claims made to customers over their rights to refunds for damaged and digital products.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched proceedings in the federal court against the country’s largest online book retailer over claims allegedly made on the Booktopia website between 10 January 2020 and 2 November 2021 that customers had to notify Booktopia within two days of delivery of a faulty, damaged or incorrect product in order to be able to get a refund or other replacement options.
The company also allegedly told customers there were no refund rights on products such as digital content and ebooks in any circumstances.
The ACCC has alleged the company also told 19 customers it was not obliged to provide a refund or remedy because the company was not notified about a fault with the delivery within two days of the delivery.
The ACCC says those claims are false and misleading because Australian consumer law gives customers a right to obtain a refund or remedy if they don’t meet consumer guarantees, and there is no two-day expiration date.
“Consumers who buy digital products or buy products online have the same rights as those who shop in physical stores,” the ACCC chair, Rod Sims, said in a statement.
“Australian consumers have a right to refund, repair or replacement for goods that do not meet their consumer guarantee rights, which apply for a reasonable period, and no business can exclude, limit or modify those rights.”
Sims said the ACCC was acting on the complaints made from Booktopia customers who claim they were denied a refund because they contacted Booktopia more than two days after delivery.
“Consumers are not limited to a two-day period in which to notify a seller of problems with the product they have purchased,” he said.
“Booktopia’s conduct may have caused consumers not to seek a refund, replacement or repair for faulty digital products, books and other goods in circumstances where the Australian consumer law gave them a right to do so.”
The ACCC will be seeking a ruling from the court on penalties, declarations and costs.
A spokesperson for Booktopia said the company was still reviewing the ACCC’s statements and filings.
In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange earlier this week, Booktopia said the statements were “to ensure that we could confidently provide replacements, refunds and other remedies to customers” and it wasn’t intended to limit Booktopia’s obligations under consumer law.
The company’s website now states that for returns on damaged or faulty items, customers should contact Booktopia “as soon as possible” from the time delivery was made.
It is not the first court action the competition regulator has launched against companies over consumer rights when it comes to digital products. The federal court ordered Sony Interactive Entertainment to pay $3.5m in penalties over claiming it did not have to provide refunds for games once downloaded, or if 14 days had passed.
The full federal court also ordered Valve to pay $3m in 2018 over claims that users were not entitled to refunds on games bought on its Steam games platform.