To avoid misleading customers, or simply through fear of legal backlash, advertising has evolved to hide the potential shortcomings of an offer in its disclaimer.
Apple Australia has admitted to misleading consumers around returns and warranty conditions and been forced to adopt a new warranty policy following an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigation.
The watchdog began scrutinising Apple’s consumer guarantee policies and practices after becoming concerned that the vendor was not meeting guaranteed obligations around refunds, replacement or repair conditions under Australian Consumer Law (ACL). The law came into effect on 1 January 2011 and provides consumers with a basic set of rights in relation to consumer goods sold in Australia.
An ACCC statement said it suspected the false and misleading claims were the result of staff and representatives misapplying Apple’s policies including its 14-day return policy and 12-month limited manufacturer’s warranty.
Apple products implicated are iPods, iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, iMacs and peripherals. Thirty-party products including headphones and printers, along with software available through iTunes and App stores, are also affected.
Under a court enforceable undertaking, Apple has acknowledged the ACCC’s concerns and is now committed to taking a number of compliance measures.
These include not making representations to consumers contrary to the ACL; continuing to offer a consumer redress program to allow those affected to have their claims reassessed; clarifying the differences between the coverage provided by the ACL and Apple’s voluntary limited manufacturer’s warranty; and making available copies of the ACCC’s Repair, Replace, Refund in its retail stores.
Apple has also agreed to implement a program to improve ACL compliance training for Apple sales and management staff; ongoing monitoring of ACL compliance; and maintaining a webpage aimed at providing information. In addition, Apple accepted the ACL may provide for remedies beyond 24 months for a number of its products.
“The ACCC was concerned that Apple was applying its own warranties and refund policies effectively to the exclusion of the consumer guarantees contained in the Australian Consumer Law,” ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, stated.
“This undertaking serves as an important reminder to businesses that while voluntary or express warranties can provide services in addition to the consumer guarantee rights of the ACL, they cannot replace or remove those ACL guarantee rights.”Read more: Apple buys Beats Electronics for US$3bn
The Apple win comes off the back of a busy month for the ACCC. Last week, the watchdog won an appeal in the High Court of Australia which saw a $2 million penalty against TPG for misleading advertising reinstated.
The ACCC’s investigation into misconduct by Excite Mobile around its mobile phone services already reached a successful conclusion in late November after the company was fined $455,000 by the Federal Court.
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