Most shoppers and buyers in Ghana always encounter the phrase â€œgoods sold out are not returnableâ€ whenever they enter a shop to buy or after they have bought an item and have receipts issued to them.
Most sellers in Ghana do not replace or return the money of shoppers who return goods that they have purchased earlier.
There are certain goods that cannot be returned; perishable items are time bound, making its return a problem. There are, however, certain goods such as electrical appliances, clothes, etc. which are not perishable and its return should not create problems for the seller.
Popular supermarkets and some shops dealing in fashionable items sometimes give options to the shopper to return goods if the buyer is not satisfied with the product.
This opportunity is offered by a limited few. Most shops in the country do not have such a policy and this is inimical to commerce.
There are several reasons why people would want to return goods purchased, some of which include the goods not being fit for purpose, owner realising he or she did impulse buying, the owner getting the same goods at a very low price.
All those and many more are reasons why customers might return goods.
In developed countries, this exclusion clause is absent in most contract of sales.
A customer can return the product if he/she feels no use for the product or the product does not fit the purpose for which it was purchased.
Most of these European shops return the customerâ€™s money after they have satisfied themselves of the state of the goods.
The law that governs contracts of sale in Ghana is the Sale of Goods Act 1962 (Act 137). This law is the principal statute which regulates how businesses deal with clients who usually buy with cash.
Whenever a buyer places an order for goods and receives same, then a contract of sale has been established.
It is important for both the seller and buyer to ensure that the goods in question are of quality and in good shape.
Section 8 (1) of the Sale of Goods Act states that in a sale of specific goods the fundamental obligation of the seller is to deliver those goods to the buyer.
Failure of the seller to do so constitutes a breach which may result in the contract being declared void.
In Tawiah v Ghana Civil Aviation Authority & Ors [1989-90] 1 GLR 452-456, the court held that in a sale of specific goods, the fundamental obligation of the seller is to deliver the goods to the buyer.
The reasons why a lot of shoppers are faced with this situation largely stems from the kind of economy we run as a country.
It is a known fact that most of the goods that we trade in are not manufactured here but in Asia, America and Europe.
The sellers of these products use hard earned currency to purchase these products and sell to clients, so this makes it difficult for the sellers to agree on shoppers returning goods purchased earlier.
Another reason might be the sellers suspicion of the shopper tampering with the goods before returning it.
Most shoppers usually do not package the product well after they have found out that the goods in question are not fit for their use.
This may result in the seller refusing to take the goods back.
One other challenge that most buyers face is defect in the goods purchased. Some unscrupulous sellers are fond of selling defective goods to clients unknowingly.
The trick of some of these sellers is to reduce the price of the goods without informing the shopper of the defect in the product. It is only when the shopper gets home that he realises the defect.
Albert Gyamfi in his book, Principles of Commercial Law in Ghana, explained that there was no implied condition that goods sold by the seller to a buyer would be fit for the purpose for which the goods were so required or may be of desire.
The buyer, therefore, bears the burden to satisfy himself that the goods he intends to purchase are free from defect and are also fit for the purpose before he buys them. The seller is absolved from any liability if the goods delivered do not meet the expectation of the buyer.
In law this principle is known as â€œCaveat Emptorâ€ or â€œbuyer bewareâ€. Section 13 (1) of Act 137 acknowledges the caveat emptor principle and also places a burden on the seller to inform the buyer of any defect that may be present in the goods at the time of the sale.
Failure by the seller to reveal any defects in the product before selling it to the buyer may result in the seller being held liable. This principle is referred to as â€œCaveat venditorâ€ meaning â€œ seller bewareâ€.
In the case of Hotel Georgia Ltd v Silver Star Auto Ltd (2012) 56 GMJ 52, the Supreme Court in its ruling explained that a breach of s. 13 (1) of the act would only occur if the purchaser shows that the seller of the vehicle knew or was in the first place aware of the defects in the goods before selling same or at the time of the sale or delivery the seller deliberately or negligently failed to disclose his knowledge of the defects to the purchaser.
The use of the phrase â€œGoods sold out are not returnableâ€ to deny shoppers or buyers their right to return goods purchased is not captured anywhere under the laws of Ghana.
It is the creation of businessmen and women interested in maximising their profits and minimising their loses.
It is important for buyers to ensure that they are certain about the products they intend to buy before making a purchase.
The sellers are also to ensure that the goods sold to the buyers are free from defect.
The government and consumer protection agencies must ensure that some of these protectionist clauses benefitting sellers are scrapped in order to enhance commerce in Ghana.
The writer is a Former Law student of the Kings University College