Making a Purchase
|This page is used in the Consumer Law Lesson Module, a law-related ESL lesson for newcomers to Canada.|
|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.
- 1 The seller must not mislead you
- 2 The seller must not act unfairly towards you
- 3 You are protected by the legal warranty
- 4 You can change your mind (for some purchases)
The seller must not mislead you
“I got an email saying I was entitled to a 30% ‘discount’ off any pair of shoes from the Shoes Aplenty website. I bought a pair of loafers. I later learned that I paid the ordinary price they charge everyone. The term ‘discount’ gave me the impression I was getting a bargain price. I wasn’t. That’s misleading advertising."
- Winston, Delta
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:
- 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
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
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).
If you buy privately from an individual, the legal warranty is more limited than if you buy from a business. If you buy something from an individual, it has to be durable for a reasonable period of time and match the description of the goods. The conditions that an item be of “merchantable” quality and fit for the purpose you bought it for apply only when you buy from a business.
When something is sold "as is"
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”.
The legal warranty applies to any new product sold by a business, including one sold “as is”. But be aware that the legal warranty is the subject of much legal interpretation. To enforce your rights, you might have to go to court. Think twice about any product that is sold "as is", unless you're willing to take the risk that if it doesn't work properly, it might be difficult and costly to get things put right.
Should you buy an extended warranty?
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)
“My friend Jan talked me into going to her yoga studio for a class. I had fun, and the studio was beautiful. I decided to sign up for a membership on the spot. The next day I regretted it. I just can’t afford the $100 per month for a full year. Thankfully I had 10 days during which I could change my mind and cancel, without any penalty. That afternoon I sent the yoga studio an email saying I was cancelling the contract.“
- Surita, Vancouver
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
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
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?
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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An agreement between two or more people, giving them obligations towards each other that can be enforced in court. A valid contract must be offered by one person and accepted by the other, and some form of payment or other thing of value must generally be exchanged between the parties to the contract.
In contract law, a promise made by someone about a certain state of affairs, like "the plumbing was replaced last year" or "I had a vasectomy two years ago." See "misrepresentation."
Intentionally doing a thing; a law passed by a government, also called "legislation" or a "statute." See "regulations."
In law, a legal incapacity to do certain things, like enter into a contract or start a court proceeding. Legal disabilities include insanity and being under the age of majority. See "age of majority."
In law, a requirement or obligation to honour and abide by something, such as a contract or order of the court. A judge's order is "binding" in the sense that it must be obeyed or a certain punishment will be imposed. Also refers to the principle that a higher court's decision on a point of law must be adopted by a lower court. See "contempt of court" and "precedent."
In contract law, the fulfillment of an obligation or duty arising from a contract.
In law, to give up a right or entitlement; to give up the opportunity to assert a right or enforce an entitlement. See "release."
In law, to formally deliver documents to a person in a manner that complies with the applicable rules of court. Service may be ordinary (mailed or delivered to a litigant's address for service), personal (hand-delivered to a person), or substituted (performed in a way other than the rules normally require). See "address for delivery," "ordinary service," "personal service," and "substituted service."
An agreement which requires payment for the use of property, under which the owner of property, like a car or an apartment, gives up the right to occupy and use that property in exchange for a sum of money. A "lessor" is the person who retains ownership of the property and receives money for its use. A "lessee" is the person who purchases the right of possession and use of the property.
An agreement to transfer the ownership of property from one person to another in exchange for the reciprocal transfer of something else, usually money. See "agreement."