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Guarantees: Why goods must be fit for purpose

When you sell a product or service, it must be suitable for the purpose the customer told you about. If it isn’t you may have to compensate them, eg by refunding their money or replacing the product. Read our case studies for examples of getting it right and wrong. 

What ‘fit for purpose’ means

This guarantee means a product must be fit for any particular purpose:

  • a customer tells you they want it for
  • you say the product is fit for. 

For example, if you sell gardening equipment and a customer tells you they want a machine that cuts grass very finely for their entry in a gardening competition, you may get caught out if you sell them a machine that roughly cuts up their lawn instead.

If you don’t meet this guarantee, customers have certain rights against you.

You can read examples of how the rule works at these links: 

Returns, refunds and repairs (external link) — Consumer protection
Consumer guarantees for products (external link) — Consumer Protection

2 Caravan Case Study

Case Study

Heavy load

Jared has a caravan, but his car is too small to tow it. He tells Rebecca, a motor vehicle trader, he wants a vehicle that can tow a 2000 kg caravan. 

Jared buys a car that Rebecca says can tow 2000 kg. But when Jared checks the operator’s manual he finds out his model can only tow up to 1500 kg.

Rebecca was obliged to tell Jared the car she sold him was not fit for the purpose Jared had stated he wanted it for. Rebecca should have recommended a more suitable car. Jared now has several options he can take against Rebecca under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

What you should do

If a customer doesn’t describe what they’ll be using your product or service for, ask them. You can then advise them — before they buy — if you think it will suit their purpose or if another product or service will suit them better.

Guarantees that a product or service will be fit for a particular purpose don’t apply if a customer chooses to buy something you’ve told them won’t be suitable.

Obligations under the Consumer Guarantees Act (external link) — Consumer Protection

2 Hardware Store Case Study

Case study

Paint problems

Maisey goes to a hardware store to buy paint. She tells the salesman David the paint must be heat resistant because it’s for her sauna. 

David recommends a heat-resistant paint and tells Maisey it needs an undercoat to stop moisture building up in the wall. Maisey says she doesn't think it will need an undercoat because she’ll only use the sauna once a month.

She paints the sauna without applying an undercoat. Two months later, the sauna paint starts bubbling and discolouring.

Maisey has no comeback against the hardware store about the paint — the fitness for particular purpose guarantee does not apply if a customer ignores the skill or judgement of the supplier. David correctly advised Maisey, but she chose not to follow his advice.

Review your product descriptions carefully — the Consumer Guarantees Act covers written or verbal claims you make about a product’s quality.

Review your product descriptions carefully — the Consumer Guarantees Act covers written or verbal claims you make about a product’s quality.

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