Making a Purchase

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School in March 2017.

When you make a purchase, you are making a contract. A contract is a legally enforceable agreement. As parties to the agreement, you and the seller have certain legal rights and obligations.

The seller must not mislead you[edit]

Under BC law, sellers are not allowed to mislead you to convince you to buy something. In their advertising and in their conversations with you, a seller cannot say anything that has the capability of deceiving or misleading you. For example, a seller must not advertise or tell you that:

  • what they are selling has uses or benefits that it does not have
  • what they are selling is of a particular standard or quality when it isn’t
  • they have an approval, status or connection that they don’t have
  • you are getting a special price or benefit when they are really offering the same thing that you can get somewhere else

There are also federal laws that prohibit sellers from advertising or saying anything that is false or misleading. For example, a seller must not advertise or tell you that:

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  • what they are selling is on "sale" or "special" unless the price is lower than the ordinary selling price (and they can’t artificially increase the ordinary price)
  • what they are selling performs at a certain level unless they can prove it (for example, saying they offer “the fastest network in Canada”)
  • what they are selling is endorsed by someone when that is not true (that is, they can’t make up a fake testimonial)

No one actually needs to be deceived or misled for a court to find that a representation is misleading. If the general impression given by a representation is misleading, that is enough. Here are examples of misleading representations:

  • A lender advertising “CMHC Approved” when neither the lender nor their loan has that approval.
  • A retailer advertising “Your discount - 50% off all prices shown in this catalogue", when the discount price is in fact the ordinary selling price.
  • A roofing salesperson saying that your house needs a new roof when it doesn’t.

Also against the law are “bait and switch” tactics. That is when a seller advertises something at a bargain price but doesn’t stock reasonable quantities. Once at the store, you discover that what was advertised (the “bait”), is sold out. The seller tries to “switch” you to buy some other (typically more expensive) item. They can’t do that. The seller has to stock reasonable quantities or offer you a rain check. Sellers who break these laws can be fined, jailed, or ordered to compensate consumers who suffer losses.

The seller must not act unfairly towards you[edit]

Under BC law, sellers are not allowed to act unfairly towards you or knowingly take advantage of you.

For example, a seller cannot charge you a price that is far more than what others are charging for the same thing.

A seller cannot subject you to “undue pressure” to force you to buy. An example would be if a seller tells you that you have to sign a contract immediately to get a “special price” they are offering.

As well, a seller is not allowed to knowingly take advantage of you. For example, they can’t get you to buy something that they know you cannot afford.

Nor can they take advantage of any vulnerabilities that you may have that affect your ability to protect your own interests, such as any physical or mental disability, illiteracy or language difficulties. For example, a seller is not allowed to force people whose first language is not English to sign complicated contracts that they do not understand.

If the seller does something unfair, any agreement you sign is not binding on you.

You are protected by the legal warranty[edit]

Under the law, a level of quality, performance and durability is implied into every contract. When you buy something from a business, it has to:

  • be of “merchantable” quality (that is, it has to work for its intended purpose and can’t be damaged),  
  • be fit for the purpose you bought it for,
  • be durable for a reasonable period of time, and
  • match the description of the goods.

These conditions are sometimes referred to as the legal warranty, as they are established by a law called the Sale of Goods Act. This legal warranty applies regardless of whether the seller mentions it. It is in addition to any warranty the seller or manufacturer provide.

If the item you bought is faulty or doesn't work, the legal warranty gives you the right to get the item repaired or replaced, or to cancel the contract and get a full refund (see the section "If There Are Problems" for more details on your options).

When something is sold "as is"[edit]

Sometimes, a business will say a product is sold "as is". This suggests that you won’t be able to expect help with any repairs or service if there are problems.

But in fact the legal warranty applies to all new products, no matter what the business says. When a business sells a new product “as is”, the item must still be of merchantable quality, fit for the purpose you bought it for, and reasonably durable.

The legal warranty can be waived for used items. Be cautious if you are asked to waive it. You’ll want to be sure you’ve done everything you can to protect yourself by following the steps in the section “Preventing Problems”.

Should you buy an extended warranty?[edit]

When you make a purchase, the seller may suggest you buy an “extended warranty”. This is the seller’s promise to cover repairs and maintenance for a given period if there are problems. But be aware that an extended warranty may not give you any more rights than you have already through the legal warranty. If you're thinking about an extended warranty, check its terms:

  • How long is it good for?
  • Where will you have to go to obtain warranty repairs?
  • Does the extended warranty cover parts and service, or just one or the other?

You can change your mind (for some purchases)[edit]

With some purchases, you can change your mind during a cooling-off period.

A cooling-off period means a period of time where you can think about what you bought and change your mind. During this period, you can cancel the contract or return the item without paying any penalty. You don’t need to provide any reason for cancelling.

The length of the cooling-off period varies depending on what you are buying.

Under BC law, you have a cooling-off period when you sign a contract:

  • for a product or service you buy at home: for any direct sales contract, where you buy something in person at a place other than the seller’s permanent place of business, you have a cooling-off period of 10 days after you receive a copy of the contract
  • to join a fitness club or yoga studio: for any continuing service contract, where you receive services on an ongoing basis, you have a cooling-off period of 10 days after you receive a copy of the contract
  • for cellphone service: you have a cooling-off period of 15 days after your cellphone service begins
  • to lease a car: you have a one clear day cooling-off period after you sign the lease   
  • to buy a newly-built condo: you have a cooling-off period of seven days after you sign the contract or acknowledge seeing the developer’s disclosure statement, whichever comes later

Giving notice during the cooling-off period[edit]

If you decide you do not want to go ahead with a purchase during the cooling-off period, you need to give the other party written notice telling them this. Once they get the notice, you have no further legal obligations under the contract.

The number of days starts counting on the day after the cooling-off period begins. Let’s say you sign up for a fitness club membership on February 10 and they give you a copy of the contract when you sign up. Your 10-day cooling-off period starts counting the next day, on February 11, and goes up to and including February 20.

No cooling-off period[edit]

Even though there is a cooling-off period when you lease a car, there is no cooling-off period when you buy a car. In fact, most purchases have no cooling-off period. Examples of common purchases where there is no cooling-off period in British Columbia include:

  • making a retail purchase, whether in a store or online
  • booking a flight
  • buying or financing a car  
  • buying a home (except if it’s a newly-built condo)

What if you change your mind and there is no cooling-off period?[edit]

You get something home and decide you don't like it, can't afford it, or could find it cheaper somewhere else. Can you bring it back even if there is no cooling-off period?

Generally, no you can’t. But many retail stores have a return policy that allows you to bring goods back, on certain conditions. They may say items need to be returned within a certain number of days, or items may be exchanged but not returned for a refund. Many stores post their return policy near the cash register or state it on the back of their receipt.

In law, a return policy that is posted in the store or included on your receipt would become a term of your sale contract with the store. The result is that you have the legal right to return items within the terms set out in the return policy.

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