“There’s nothing we can do. You’ll have to send the brand-new goods we sold you last week to Sydney for manufacturer repair.” Sound familiar?

Harvey Norman That was the message Harvey Norman staff at its electronics superstore at Bundall gave Amy Choyce when she returned her new Sony laptop – that couldn’t be operated at all – for repair, refund or replacement.

Discouraged, she tried again to fix the problem before phoning Harvey yet again.

“It’s still under manufacturer’s warranty, we can’t help. You have to go through Sony,” said the rep.

That was in June. She purchased the goods in May.

At considerable expense and inconvenience she did send the laptop to Sony’s authorised service centre, Planet Tech in Brisbane.

On the day after it arrived back from repair in September, she discovered new problems about which she immediately phoned the store.

“Since it’s still covered by warranty you will have to go through Sony. We can’t help you.”

Again she sent the goods to Planet Tech but when the laptop was returned in November the DC input was malfunctioning so that the battery could not be charged.

When she phoned Harveys in December, she was told “the DC input issue is your problem. We cannot assist you further unless you want to pay for the repair.”

Understandably aggrieved, she persisted with her complaint.

In January one of the 2 sales reps with whom she had been dealing phoned and said “Harvey Norman is not willing to pay for a refund or replacement. In relation to the DC unit, Harvey Norman is not willing to pay for that either. The reason is that you did not come to us for the initial repair.”

Feeling the brunt of her fury, the same sales rep phoned later that day to say “If you send the laptop back to planet Tech to repair the DC input issue, then we will agree to pay half of the repair costs.”

After complaints to the Queensland Office of Fair Trading and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Harveys recanted and agreed to pay for the repair. She eventually collected a usable laptop in March, 10 months after purchase.

The ACCC was equally incensed. Its consumer protection division launched a prosecution over Harvey’s misleading and deceptive conduct.

Harvey Norman had an inescapable obligation to be responsible for the repair or replacement of the defective goods regardless of the manufacturer’s warranty. As much is provided in the statutory guarantees imposed on the supply of all goods and services to consumers by the Australian Consumer Law.

To fob the customer off in the way it had done was grossly misleading.

“Broad denials of liability by a supplier may mislead a consumer as to his or her rights.” ruled Justice John Dowsett in the Federal Court of Australia in Brisbane. “It may also lead the consumer to conclude that persistence will involve too much trouble with too little assurance of a satisfactory outcome.”

Harvey was fined $7k for each misleading statement and $1k for “secondary offences”, total $52k for its misleading dealings with Ms Choyce and a buyer of an ACER desktop who was treated in much the same way.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Bunavit Pty Ltd [2016] FCA 6 Dowsett J 12/01/2016


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