Whether you’re shopping in-store or online, the experience can differ in the UAE from what you may be used to in your home country.

In the US, the general policy for returns or refunds on your shopping is usually a 30-day period, where an item can be returned for a full refund or exchanged if the customer has a proof of purchase (receipt) and the item has not been used or tampered with. This applies to most goods, whether they are on sale or full price. Customers have the right to return purchases for a full refund even when the item is not faulty.

In the UK as well, there is a lot of flexibility on the part of traditional and online retailers. A refund must be issued if customers return goods within 14 days of receiving them. Customers are rarely asked to give a reason for returning an item. Furthermore, consumers have at least five years to report any fault associated with any purchased item.

UAE law for consumer rights

In the UAE, refund and return policy can vary from store to store and according to the specific type of business (electronics, clothing, online retail, discount retail, luxury retail, supermarkets, etc.) Across all of these segments, it’s quite rare for a store to offer a cash refund. Instead most offer customers the option to exchange an item or take store credit. In many cases, this form of credit can expire within a specific time period.

There is a federal law (number 24 of 2006) that regulates this type of commerce. Established under this law, the Consumer Code of Rights outlines responsibilities of shoppers and retailers.

Under these guidelines the consumer and retailer responsibilities are listed out as follows:

Who Responsibilities
Consumer
  • To understand product warranties, guarantees, origin, storage, expiry and the method of use prior to making a purchase.
  • To request a receipt from the seller and ensure that the details on the receipt are correct.
  • To present receipts in case there are any issues with the purchased product.
Retailer
  • To be transparent about the terms and conditions and offer customers the option to return or exchange a product if there are any issues. This also applies to any goods bought on sale.
  • It is illegal for stores to put up signs that read ‘No Returns, Refunds or Exchanges’.

Nearly all emirates have consumer protection departments operating under their own department of economic development. Although processes and procedures may vary in each emirate, each department is expected to uphold the rules brought forth by the federal law.

Terms for refunds or exchanges

Unless informed otherwise, customers must have a specific reason to return or exchange an item. However, many retailers do in fact extend this option to customers if they bring back the items with a receipt and within the stated timeline.

Customers can return goods for a refund or for a repair, replacement or a credit note if the purchased item:

  • Has a fault that wouldn’t normally have been detected at the time they bought it (hidden fault).
  • Is not the same as described by the salesperson, or on a label or sign, or in an advertisement, or does not match the sample that they were shown.
  • Is not suitable for the customer’s intended use as described by the salesperson before they bought it.

In the event that a sold product turns out to have a defect, in theory it would be the responsibility of the retailer to resolve the issue, either by repairing the item or replacing it. However, there is no guarantee this will happen if the customer does not have the one-year warranty card as well as the receipt that came with the original purchase.

[Related: Damaged goods covered by credit card warranty]

While the law mentions that retailers must offer customers the option to return or exchange products in case of issues, the timeline within which the customer must act depends on individual store policy.

Looking at some of the electronics super-brand stores in the UAE, customers usually have only five days to exchange or return an item, as long as the packaging has not been opened and also that the customer has an original receipt and warranty card. It’s also important to note that customers are required to return the item at the exact store location they purchased it from. Accessories, software, movies and music, games, and printing products in most stores, cannot be returned. Exceptions include Jacky’s where customers can get a full refund and exchange within seven days, given that they provide the original invoice and the purchased item has not been opened.

Clothing stores, for the most part, give customers anywhere between five and seven days to return an item, with the only option of store credit or exchange, given it is still with original tags intact and in the same condition.

Sales shopping

The same law applies during sales as well – such as Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) and Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS). Retailers cannot ban returns if there is an issue with the purchase (as listed above) and must at least offer the option to exchange.

[Related: Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) 2015: Grab the best deals]

Online

The federal law also applies to online retailers, given they are a UAE-based website. Taking up a case with an online retailer outside of the UAE may prove more difficult.

Online retailers that deliver to the UAE offer customers a bit more time to return or exchange an unused product (items must be sent back within 14 days of delivery and in original packaging). This process is actually more convenient as it allows customers to contact customer service who will then arrange for a pick-up of the item from the address on file (this shipping is free of charge). If customers are unsatisfied with any items, refunds would be given only in the form of coupons (store credit). However, there are exceptions such as Souq.com which offer customers a full refund if the item is sent back in it’s original state, along with the packaging and bar code in tact.

Counterfeit goods

When it comes to the sale of counterfeit goods, until now retailers have been warned and subject to inspections with the risk of fines for carrying such products. However, authorities have introduced a new law recently that would replace the Commercial Fraud Law. Under the new rules, it will now be an offence to possess counterfeits. It also created a single national government body that would be responsible for monitoring compliance.

Fraud

In the case of fraud, such instances must be reported to the retailer, the credit card company (if a card was used), as well as the respective consumer protection department.

Credit card companies do not get involved in consumer disputes unless a fraud case is reported. Most banks cover loss due to fraud – as long as it is reported as soon as possible, usually within 24 – 48 hours, and you have proof of fraud. (It’s also worth noting that many credit cards come with purchase protection, meaning that if you bought your goods on a credit card anywhere in the world and subsequently lost the item through theft or accidental damage – within a period of 60 – 90 days, depending on the scheme – you will be covered.)

[Compare credit cards in the UAE]

Consumer complaints: Who to call

Last year, the Department of Economic Development (DED) in Dubai’s Consumer Protection Department reported a growing number of fraud cases relating to goods or services purchased online.

The Department of Consumer Protection under the Ministry of Economy handles complaints at the federal level. The Department of Economic Development deals with consumer rights issues in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah. These departments implement the law on an emirate level and address illegal trade practices. In Sharjah, it’s the Sharjah Municipality which deals directly with consumer issues.

After receiving a complaint, each of these various departments will determine whether the law has been broken and then take steps to resolve the issue. If a mutual agreement is not possible, they will give both parties their recommendation based on the federal law.

You can call:

  • UAE-wide: Consumers with complaints can contact Ministry of Economy on 600 522 225
  • Dubai: Call ‘Ahlan Dubai’ on 600 545555 or email consumerrights@dubaided.gov.ae
  • Abu Dhabi: Submit a complaint via Abu Dhabi Government E-Portal at ded.abudhabi.ae
  • Ras Al Khaimah: Call RAK Department of Economic Development on 07 2271222
  • Ajman: Call Ajman Department of Economic Development on 06 7016600
  • Sharjah: Submit a complaint to Sharjah Municipality at portal.shjmun.gov.ae/

Given the strict conditions and complexities mentioned above, you can see why it’s crucial to read all terms and conditions, or at least ask about the return policy before buying any product. Consumers are also advised to keep all paperwork, receipts and correspondence on file, in the event an official complaint or case must be filed to the consumer protection department.