The law and the reality

A guide to returning items and getting your money back.

Jerusalem beer garden (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem beer garden
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Have you ever tried on a dress that fit perfectly at the store but looked awful when you put it on at home? What if you hung it in the closet and when you took it out to wear for a party 10 days later you realized it wouldn’t do at all? Worse still, what if you found a flaw in your elegant garment just before you went out the door?
By law, you may have the right to return the item and to get your money back.
According to Jerusalem attorney Kirill Shefer, an expert in business and consumer law, Israel has excellent consumer protection legislation. But there is a problem: Sellers take advantage of the fact that the laws are often not enforced. Says Shefer, “There is the law, and there is reality.”
However, if you know your rights and insist upon them, it is often possible to get immediate justice. If not, there are steps you can take. So, with Shefer’s help, I have prepared a guide for you, the consumer, delineating your consumer rights.
WHEN YOU purchase something for yourself or for your family, you create a contractual situation between yourself and the seller. You pay for a purchase; that is your part of the deal.
The seller, however, is required to give you correct information about the product you would like to buy, including size, shape, weight and any other relevant aspect of your potential purchase. He/she is not allowed to misinform you about the product and may not leave out important details. Of course, he/she is not obliged to suggest that you purchase something less expensive than the item in which you are interested or even to offer the best value in the shop.
The price you pay must be identical to or less than the advertised price.
The seller must inform you if there is a defect in the product, whether hidden or apparent. If it is on sale as a “second” (sug bet in Hebrew), he/she must tell you why. And this is important: If you go back to the store and say that you were not informed, the seller has to prove that you were.
If something is on sale, the store must inform the consumer of the full price of the product before it went on sale. Often, supermarkets show a lower price on the shelf, but the cash register rings the higher price. They are required to sell at the lower price. The same goes for any product in any shop.
When shipment/delivery is a necessary part of the purchase, the price of shipment/ delivery must be included in the price you are quoted. Otherwise, how can you compare prices before you buy? Advertisements sometimes leave out the shipping price and other hidden costs that the law requires them to include – so beware!
Electrical appliances that cost more than NIS 150 must come with a 12-month warranty (next month’s column will discuss warranties and repairs in detail).
When can you return a purchase you do not want and get your money back?
All major groups of products have a time limit within which you can return a product and get a full financial refund – not a voucher or a different item from the store, unless that’s what you want. Generally, that time limit is 14 calendar (not business) days. Calendar days include Shabbat and religious holidays. You do not have to give a reason for returning your purchase.
This includes purchases bought from a marketer who caught you at home, at school, at work, etc.
Products to which the law applies
• The product must cost at least NIS 50.
• The product must not have been used.
However – and this is important – despite what a seller may tell you, if you have opened the wrapping but have not used the product, it can be returned (in its original packaging). With electrical appliances, once you have put a plug in a socket, it is considered used and cannot be returned. But there are exceptions: see below.
• The product must be undamaged (by you). If you scratched it or dropped it, you cannot return it and get your money back.
A defective product or one that does not operate as it is supposed to can be returned even if you plugged it into a socket. If you were misled about the product and plugged it in, it can be returned.
But if you bought a teapot and made tea and then decided it doesn’t match the décor in your kitchen, it cannot be returned. (There are ways to prove that it has been connected to an electric source (or a water source or a gas source).
Items that must be returned before the 14-day limit
• Clothes have to be returned within 48 hours (so that you don’t wear something and return it – a practice common in the US).
• Shoes must be returned within two days.
• Jewelry that cost less than NIS 3,000 must be returned within two days. However, if it costs more than that, the return policy depends on what the seller tells you or on what is written on your receipt. The store may have a seven- or 10-day return policy; find out in advance.
Exceptions to the rule
This is a big one! According to Shefer, a store may alter the return policy prescribed by law. In fact, the store may tell you there are no returns. However, this holds true only if this return policy is written on a sign near the cash register in large clear letters and is difficult to miss.
Then, the seller may have a no-return policy or a shorter time limit for returning purchases.
• Having this noted on the receipt alone does not qualify as notifying you.
• Some stores worry that this no-return policy may scare off customers, so they keep it a bit hidden. This does not qualify as having notified you of their policy. It must be on a large clear sign in a visible place (near the cash register, for example).
What if you bought something on Friday that has to be returned within 48 hours and the store is closed on Sunday? Or you bought it on Thursday morning, and the shop is closed on Saturday? You bring it back as soon as the store opens, whenever that may be.
Products you cannot return for any reason
• Food with an expiration date.
• Products that can be duplicated, such as CDs.
• Custom-made goods (and services) made to your specifications and ordered by you.
• Underwear and swimsuits.
However, this only means that the items are not subject to consumer law, notes Shefer. Since you still have a contractual relationship with the seller, if that contract has been breached (you received a damaged sofa that you ordered custom- made, for example), you have rights and are protected under contract law.
Flights and vacation packages
Generally, there is a distinction between a purchase that you make at a travel agency and a purchase made over the phone or online. In the first case (being physically present at the agency), the travel agency will have informed you of their policy.
However, if the vacation/flight is purchased by phone/Internet, flights and vacation packages can be canceled within 14 calendar days (any day of the week, including Shabbat and holidays) after the transaction takes place. This holds true only if more than seven calendar days are left until the package or flight begins.
Important: This applies only to businesses in Israel. There is generally a cancellation fee that is 5 percent of the total sum or NIS 100, whichever is lower.
Ongoing transactions
This includes subscriptions, contracts with cable companies, health clubs, cellphones and co on. Shefer stresses that ongoing transactions should always be canceled in writing. The best way to do this is by registered mail or by email or fax with a written confirmation that your notice was received. Send your letter in Hebrew and save a lot of future frustration (they can claim they don’t accept letters in a different language, or they didn’t understand it).
Once the company has received your request, the provider is obliged to stop payments in three days. If you can prove you sent a notice asking to stop payment and it was not stopped, they are breaking the law. Again, says Shefer, should you need to prove you filed a written notice, there will be translation issues if it was not in Hebrew. Find a friend, if you don’t know Hebrew, or head for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau in your area for help in giving notice. For information on offices, call 1-800-506-060.
If your monthly payments are less than NIS 50, the provider has to credit you in the next month’s bill. If it is more than NIS 50, he/she has to return (or give an order to return) your money within three days.
Note: If you have an ongoing membership or subscription and want to cancel it before the year has passed, you may have to pay a cancellation fee. Check your contract before the service begins, to learn exactly how much you will be putting out every month and to be aware of the cancellation policy in advance.
Next column: What to do when things go wrong – Warranties, repairs and remedies.
Contact the writer at Please do not submit specific questions, but emails about anything you want to add or a general issue you would like discussed will be gladly received.