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Recently, I have experienced the following sequence of events:

  1. I purchased an item from a major Australian retailer "A".
  2. I found the same item cheaper at a different retailer "B".
  3. Retailer A was unwilling to match retailer B's price. However, they do offer a no-questions-asked change-of-mind returns policy. As such, I placed an order with retailer B, and returned the original item to retailer A, who accepted the return and provided a full refund.
  4. The order with retailer B was cancelled on their end due to insufficient stock.
  5. I returned to retailer A to place a new order for the item (at their higher price). They accepted the order, charging a non-refundable deposit.
  6. Reviewing my bank statements, I discovered that the "refund" from retailer A actually resulted in a debit to my account, rather than a credit of the refunded amount.
  7. Retailer B found additional stock of the item, and honoured my original order with them.

As a result of this saga, I now have two copies of the item (one from B, and one on order from A at a higher price). I've essentially paid A three times for the one item, and I don't even need it anymore since I got it cheaper from B.

Who legally owns the item purchased in step 1? Since it was returned in expectation of monetary compensation, I'd argue that the transaction with retailer A in step 3 didn't actually transfer ownership back to them, since that compensation didn't occur. However, I imagine that they could argue they own the item, since they have physical possession of it and (as far as I know) their computer system shows the original transaction has been reversed.

The reason this is relevant is because I wish to cancel my order with retailer A without financial penalty, including a refund of the "non-refundable" deposit. I'd argue that the order was placed under the mistaken belief that I no longer owned the item purchased in step 1, and never would have been placed had I known I still owned the item. Since that mistaken belief was a result of their mistake processing the earlier return, I believe it is their responsibility to correct the situation with no financial detriment to myself.

I ask this question now, before having discussed the situation with retailer A. I fully expect them to completely refund the transactions of steps 1 (as originally agreed) and 3 (to correct their mistake), however I'd like to be able to mount a solid argument for requesting a full refund of the transaction in step 5.

Is my understanding of the situation correct? Am I likely to be able to argue my case as described above? Are such situations covered under Australian consumer law, or will I have to rely on good will on retailer A's part?


NOTE: I have receipts, invoices and bank statements attesting to each of the transactions involved, which I can provide to retailer A to prove my case if necessary.

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Ownership of the original item passed back to them when you and they agreed to the return. Possession of and risk of loss or damage to are different questions to ownership.

The fact that the refund has not yet been properly made is irrelevant. At this point, they owe you money, they do not owe you the item.

Non-refundable deposits are legal in Australia but the maximum amount depends on state law and the type and value of the goods or services.

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