How Australian Consumer Law Got Nintendo To Repair My Joy-Cons For Free

How Australian Consumer Law Got Nintendo To Repair My Joy-Cons For Free
Contributor: Maddison Stoff

When one of my Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons began drifting I wasn’t terribly concerned. After the 2019 class action lawsuit where Nintendo of America supposedly agreed to free repairs for all Joy-Con controllers in perpetuity without a proof of purchase, I naturally assumed Nintendo Australia would follow suit.

I couldn’t send my first Joy-Con to Nintendo during the pandemic as the repair centre in Scoresby was closed. So when my second Joy-Con also started drifting, I filled out Nintendo’s form and mailed them both controllers, assuming the problem would be fixed.

But Nintendo had a different plan, asking for a “proof of purchase” before they would proceed with the repairs.

I had three issues with this request. I wasn’t sure when I bought my Joy-Cons, only that I bought them in the country before Joy-Con drift was a problem, and I’m a renter on a low income so it isn’t always possible for me to keep receipts.

Secondly, I’m transgender and reluctant to look over documents that might expose me to my dead name. Finally, the “proof of purchase” shouldn’t matter: Joy-Cons are centrally produced and distributed by Nintendo internationally to Nintendo Australia, which supplied them to the retailer I purchased the controllers from initially.

They are the same controllers with the same defect in every region and have been the subject of lawsuits all over the world, as recently in January. Even if I’d purchased the controllers from a different country, they would still be classified as defective given they possess a major problem rendering them inoperable after what can be as little as two months of normal play.

Image: Kotaku

When I asked Nintendo Australia what would happen if I didn’t have a proof of purchase, or I couldn’t provide one, they offered me three equally undesirable resolutions:

“If a valid proof of purchase cannot be provided then there will be a cost to perform the work required. 

There is cost of $100.00 AUD for the work required on this Service Order should a valid proof of purchase not be provided. This amount includes labour, administration and related costs. 

If this quote is rejected and the product is to be returned unrepaired an Appraisal Charge of $20.00 AUD will still apply. 

Alternatively, we can dispose of the product at no cost should you not require it be returned. Please respond to this email and notify Customer Service should you wish to take this option.” 

Why would anybody send their Joy-Cons to Nintendo Australia for repairs if it meant they’d have to pay Nintendo almost the entire cost of a new set of controllers? Why would anybody pay Nintendo $20 just to verify the Joy-Cons are broken, something they’d already know, only for Nintendo to send them back?

It didn’t seem legal to me, so I contacted the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) to talk about my options. Because I live in Melbourne, CALC recommended sending Nintendo Australia a formal letter summoning them to the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal if they didn’t provide me with a free repair within a fortnight, as is the right of all legal owners of defective products under Australian consumer law.

Nintendo Australia’s response? They denied that they were the supplier of the controllers, arguing the responsibility was on the retailer.

“The supplier is in fact the retailer who sold the products to you. 

We have no obligation to meet your demand to provide a free repair or replacement within 14 days. Setting aside the fact that we are not the supplier, it has not even been established whether the supplier obtained the products from us.” 

So I asked them if they were seriously denying every retailer in Australia was supplied the Joy-Cons through Nintendo Australia by the international Nintendo corporation that manufactures and distributes them worldwide. They were silent for a week before they finally agreed to repair my drifting Joy-Cons without a receipt or a payment, but they also said they wouldn’t change their policies because of it:

“We get the sense that the only obstacle in this case is availability of the receipt or a similar type of proof of purchase. We have reviewed this case and have decided to waive the requirement of proof of purchase on this occasion and to proceed with our prior offer of a free repair to be dispatched within 5 to 10 business days. We will no longer ask you to present proof of purchase in this instance only. 

Please note that any future instances will require valid proof of purchase to claim a free repair under our voluntary warranty.” 

Legally, however, Nintendo’s local policies don’t hold water. Apart from Joy-Con drift being a manufacturing fault that requires regular repairs, CALC advised me that the serial numbers on all Nintendo Switch controllers actually show the country and retailer of origin. And since that identifies the controllers as having been sold in Australia, even if they’re gifts or second-hand, that places them squarely under the remit of Australian consumer law, and the protections that apply.

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

I asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about this, and they said while businesses are allowed customers to “show proof of purchase” before supplying a remedy, proof of purchase also includes the “serial or production number linked with the purchase on the supplier’s or manufacturer’s database”.

When asked if this meant that the Joy-Cons were effectively proof of purchase by themselves, a spokesperson for the competition regulator reaffirmed that all products “come with automatic consumer guarantees” and that local laws give Australians “the right to ask for their choice of either a repair, replacement or refund” if a product has a major failure.

Proof of purchase may include the following, or a copy or photo of the same:

  • a tax invoice
  • a cash register or hand written receipt
  • the transaction shown on a credit or debit card statement
  • a lay-by agreement
  • a receipt or reference number given for phone or internet payments
  • a warranty card showing the supplier’s or manufacturer’s details and the date and amount of the purchase
  • a serial or production number linked with the purchase on the supplier’s or manufacturer’s database.

The regulator also provided a list of actions Australian customers affected by Joy-Con drift could follow:

Contact the seller as soon as possible to explain the problem and the outcome they want (a refund, repair or replacement). It may be best to do this in writing so the consumer has a record of their request, particularly if the seller has already rejected the consumer’s request for a refund in person or over the phone. 

Explain to the seller that their consumer guarantee rights apply irrespective of store policy or product warranty, if this is being argued by the seller to deny a remedy. 

Make a complaint to the ACCC or their local state or territory consumer protection regulator if the dispute is unable to be resolved. 

The moral of the story is Australians are always entitled to free replacement or repairs of any defective products from the manufacturer or supplier. If that company refuses, they can be vulnerable to legal action.

You always have more rights available than companies let on. But if you’re ever having trouble there free services like the Consumer Action Law Centre, customer advocacy groups like CHOICE, and government organisations like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that can help.

I’m hopeful that more public pressure on Nintendo Australia will encourage them to alter their repair policy and amend this oversight for everyone. But just in case it doesn’t, there are legal options anyone can take to help ensure their individual controllers will be fixed.

Maddison Stoff is a neurodiverse non-binary writer, musician, and occasional critic from Melbourne, who writes political essays and science fiction set in a continuous universe. You can find her short stories on Patreon, or follow her on Twitter.

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