When you sell a piece of artwork, obviously you really hope that the buyer loves it and that it brings them joy for years to come. Sometimes, either due to a customer’s negligence or your own mistake, something may happen to your piece that compromises the integrity, longevity or even the cosmetics of your work.
Simply put, it might break.
So, what should you do if a customer reaches out to you for a refund? Most importantly, what are you legally required to do?
If you’re selling in the United States, you’ll need to abide by federal law and the laws of your specific state.
Federal law requires you to offer a refund only if the sold item is defective, or if the seller (that’s you) otherwise breaks the sales contract. Defective could mean a number of things; the painting yellows over time, the hanging hardware isn’t installed correctly and the painting drops and breaks, or other things that make the piece unusable.
Breaking a sales contract could also mean a variety of things. For example, if you promised the buyer that you would seal the painting with resin and you instead sealed with Polycrylic, or if you advertised the piece as containing real gold when in fact, you used gold color metal flake—these are all examples of breaking a sales contract (and why honesty in marketing is very important).
Things get a bit more complicated when it comes to specific states. Many states allow a specific retailer to set their own refund policy, while others have additional requirements. California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia all have more specific rules about returns and refunds, so if you’re doing business in one of these states, make sure that you consult with a lawyer so your business is compliant.
According to the Canadian Consumer Handbook, there is no legal requirement for businesses to offer refunds or accept returns. It’s generally accepted that doing so is a good business practice, however, although you may not be legally obligated to accept returns or issue a refund, it’s still the right thing to do in certain circumstances.
According to gov.uk, there are a few guidelines that you must follow if you’re doing business in the United Kingdom.
You must offer a refund if the item you’ve sold is defective, or if it isn’t how you described or doesn’t perform in the advertised way. UK law is also very specific that this applies to both regular price and sale items, so even if the item was greatly reduced because of a defect, the customer will be entitled to a refund if you haven’t advised them that that’s the reason for the price reduction.
For online, mail or phone orders, the customer has the right to cancel their order within 14 days of receiving your sold item. The customer then has 14 days to return the goods to you, and you have 14 days to refund their money after you’ve received the items back. Keep in mind that the customer doesn’t have to provide you with a reason for cancelling, so it really doesn’t matter why they decide to cancel; you still have to abide by this law if you’ve sold them items remotely.
When it comes to faulty items (i.e, pieces that aren’t sealed properly or weren’t cured correctly), your customer has up to six years from the purchase date to make a claim for repair or replacement. Unless you can prove that you sold them the item without a defect, you have to honor this law. A good way to prove there isn’t a defect is to take detailed photos of the process and/or document all of the products that you used with receipts and photos for evidence.
You do not have to offer a refund if the customer bought your work knowing that it had a fault or defect, if they damaged it themselves through no fault of your own, or if they simply no longer want the item (unless they bought it without seeing it in person first, which is where the online sales law comes in).
There is a ton of information about this subject right on gov.uk—I would recommend reading that page in its entirety before you sell, as there are many provisions for consumers but not so much for the seller.
Australia also has consumer protection, with a wealth of information available on www.accc.gov.au.
There are considerations for two different kinds of problems—minor, and major. A minor problem isn’t defined clearly on the website, but a major problem is. A major problem is anything that might have stopped a consumer from purchasing a product if they had known about it, a product that is significantly different than the sample or description (for example, if you said that you used gold leaf, but really used silver leaf), a product that is unfit for its purpose, a product that doesn’t do what the consumer asked for and can’t be easily fixed, or a product that’s unsafe.
You may be wondering, how could some of these apply to artwork? Easily, actually. If you sell an uncured piece, coasters that you’ve rated as food safe but really aren’t sealed with food safe resin, or anything else that is misleading or defective, these rules are going to apply to you.
There is some protection for sellers, however; you don’t have to offer a refund or return simply because the consumer changed their mind… which we all know happens!
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission website goes into great detail on this subject, so it’s definitely worth taking a look if you’re a seller in Australia.
The takeaway from all of this really comes down to two things: honesty in marketing, and your own due diligence. Don’t sell pieces that are flawed, or otherwise defective, unless you’ve alerted the consumer to the issue and they choose to purchase the item as-is; and in this case, you should absolutely have them sign something that states the issue, and that they’re aware of it.
Do market your products honestly: you may not get caught if you claim that you sealed a cheese board with food safe resin right away, but if someone uses it and becomes ill, was the lie really worth it? The answer is no. Selling defective or dishonest goods is not only a good way to lose your business, but also a fast track to serious legal troubles.
Make sure to do your research so that you can keep your business in the clear!