‘Goods sold out are not returnable’: A monstrous phrase killing the consumer

Feature Article Goods sold out are not returnable: A monstrous phrase killing the consumer
AUG 21, 2021 LISTEN

Most shoppers and buyers in Ghana always encounter the phrase “ goods sold out are not returnable” 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, goods like perishable items are time-bound, making its return a problem, there are however certain goods like electrical appliances, clothes etc which are not perishable and its return should not create problems for the seller.

Popular supermarkets and some shops which deal 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 the reasons include, the goods not being fit for purpose, owner realizing he did impulse buying, owner getting the same goods at a very low price, all this and many more are reasons why customers returned goods.

In developed countries, this exclusion clause is absent in most contracts of sales. A customer can return the product if he feels he has 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 customer’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 that 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, 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 them. Most shoppers usually do not package the product well after they have found out that the goods in question is 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 before he realizes the defect.

Albert Gyamfi, in his book Principles of Commercial Law in Ghana, explained that there is no implied condition that goods sold by the seller to a buyer would be fit for the purpose for which the goods are 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 does not meet the expectation of the buyer.

In law this principle is known as “Caveat Emptor” or “buyer beware”. 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 “Caveat venditor” meaning “ seller beware”.

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, and also the seller deliberately or negligently failed to disclose his knowledge of the defects to the purchaser.

The use of the phrase “ Goods sold out are not returnable” 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 maximizing their profits and minimizing 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 defects.

The government and consumer protection agencies must ensure that some of these protectionist clauses benefitting sellers is scrapped in order to enhance commerce in Ghana.

Mustapha Jimah

[email protected]


Former Law Student

Kings University College.

Aplaku - Accra