The long evolution of consumer protection
… has its most recent triumph in the UK in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The buyer is protected – by law and in law – during, and after, the purchase of goods.
Caveat venditor, which means ‘let the seller beware’, now guides consumer transactions. Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – has been turned on its head.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015
This Act details and codifies the rights and protections available to the consumer, and the responsibilities of the trader. You can find it here. It includes, and strengthens, much old legislation , and adds entirely new levels of protection. Both Which? and Citizen’s Advice have helpful articles on it.
In brief, it makes the seller responsible for problems that the buyer might encounter with a service or a product, and prohibits the seller from making any statements, contracts or conditions which place the buyer at an unfair disadvantage,
After thoroughly reading the Act, and various on-line commentaries on it by legal experts, I not only had a headache and the sense that the formerly-free-flowing channels of my brain had been stuffed with cotton-wool, I had also come to the firm belief that retailers in the UK DO NOT have the law on their side in their blanket refusal to accept returns of a paper sewing pattern where the envelope has been opened for inspection, leaving the pattern itself undamaged and unmarked.
On Sunday afternoon last, I emailed a query about just this matter to ‘Consuner Advice’, an arm of Citizen’s Advice. I am told I may need to wait up to 5 business days for a response from a trained or qualified advisor; I await this response with eager anticipation!
In the meantime, some thoughts.
PAPER SEWING PATTERNS ARE ‘GOODS’
They are tangible, non-perishable, mass-produced items. A pattern, like any other such item sold by a trader, must be fit for purpose and ‘as described’. If a skirt pattern is described as ‘sits at natural waist’ and ‘to fit waist measurement 90cm’, when cut out according to the pattern and made up as instructed, it should not have a waist of 100cm and leave a person with a 90cm natural waist naked from the waist down to … to wherever it slides to. If it does, the pattern is at fault. It is either technically incorrect, or wrongly described.
I can quickly recognise these types of all-too-common errors when I examine the printed pattern, but the policies of almost all UK pattern-retailers would suggest that I cannot return this faulty or not-as-described pattern because I have opened the envelope to look at it. Not being able to look at a purchase puts me at a grave disadvantage, and for the seller to do this is contrary to the law.
The novice sewer – and there are many – buys a pattern expecting that it to be technically correct and accurately described. Why shouldn’t it be? Isn’t that what the buyer has paid for? When it falls around her ankles, or squeezes him like a tube of toothpaste, s/he will recheck their body measurements, and the measurements provided on the pattern envelope, then blame themself rather than the pattern.
Of course, realistic expectations are needed!
No normal person would expect the result on the left from the sewing pattern below … would they?
HOW CAN YOU BE AN INFORMED CONSUMER / PATTERN BUYER?
This is difficult in the currently-existing situation, if you want to use a printed paper pattern.
All the major pattern retailers – online and bricks-and-mortar – attempt to limit (I believe illegally), the buyer’s right to recourse or refund. (please someone correct me if they know of one which doesn’t).
Burdastyle, which sells only Burda products, including paper patterns, offers 90-day returns on all its products, provided they are unused, undamaged, and in the original packaging.
In all events, I suggest careful perusal of reviews on sites such as PatternReview.com (registration – free – required), sewing blogs, or asking friends who sew for recommendations. Be aware that, for various reasons, many pattern reviewers will only say nice things about even the most horrid patterns. If you’re a larger person, the Curvy Sewing Collective carries honest reviews of a limited number of patterns, and if you’re a cynic who despises sycophants, give GOMI a chance if you can cope with often-brutal honesty and occasional bad language.
I do recommend buying from a local independent business, if possible. The pattern will cost exactly the same wherever you buy from, and the only times – all two of them! – in sixty years of sewing when I’ve actually seen inside a pattern envelope before paying for it, have been in small independent shops!
DOWNLOADABLE SEWING PATTERNS
I’ve not even touched on digital, print-at-home patterns. Digital products are covered for the first time in the new Act, and the sale of digital sewing patterns has exploded in the past few years, along with the Indie pattern-makers and sellers, some of whom have high-quality, innovative products, and others … not so much.
I feel, though, that they are an odd hybrid beast – they are not purely digital as they are of no use until they are printed onto paper, at which point they become tangible and concrete, assuming no digital problems arise. I think they’re a discussion not just for another day, but for another month or more – after I’ve received a response from Consumer Advice, perhaps.