Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: PlayStation Store Return Policy

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on September 29, 2018

Looking for that elusive PlayStation Store return policy? A lot of people have been asking, “Where and what is the PlayStation store’s return policy?” Let’s explore.

PlayStation Store Digital Goods vs Retailers

When you buy digital goods from an online store, you expect a similar return policy to what you find in a standard retail store. Retailers today mostly offer 15-30 days to return your purchase for a full refund. However, there are rules to boxed content such as video games and Blu-ray or DVD movies. If you crack open the shrink wrap, you own it. Once you crack that shrink wrap, you can only exchange the item for another like item. If the entertainment item remains wrapped (i.e., movie or video game), you can return it for a full refund so long as it’s still within the stated return window. Other physical items have usual refund windows of usually no less than 14 days and usually no more than 90 days. Still, these are reasonable return windows.

For digital goods, there is no such concept as a shrink wrap or even a plastic box. For these sales, you’re limited to whatever return policies the store offers. For Apple and Amazon, if you mistakenly make a digital purchase, they’ll happily refund you so long as you do so right away. For Sony’s PlayStation store, the waters here are much more murky.

Where is the PlayStation store refund policy?

That’s a really good question and, unfortunately, there’s not a good answer that covers the entire world. Sony has intentionally fractured the PlayStation store rules into world territories. This means that there is not a single return policy that covers the globe. Instead, return policies are by region.

In the US, Sony doesn’t actually publish an actual Return Policy. Instead, they rely on their “Terms of Service” agreement to cover their for their returns on digital good purchases.

Return Policy

I’m going to rant just a little bit on this topic before getting to the meat where to find the information you’re looking for. A Return Policy is just that. It’s a clear, concise, non-technical, non-legal statement that explains exactly what a store provides for after a sale. For example, Target’s return policy states:

Most unopened items sold by Target in new condition and returned within 90 days will receive a refund or exchange. Some items sold by Target have a modified return policy noted on the receipt, packing slip, Target policy board (refund exceptions), Target.com or in the item department. Items that are opened or damaged or do not have a receipt may be denied a refund or exchange.

Then, Target breaks this statement down into types of items and their specific return policy details such as…

Returns and exchanges without a receipt may be limited. Other restrictions may apply.

  • If you’re not satisfied with any Target Owned Brand item, return it within one year with a receipt for an exchange or a refund.
  • Target REDcard℠ debit and credit card holders will receive an extra 30 days to return nearly all items purchased with their REDcard at Target and Target.com. See Target.com/REDcard for full details and exclusions.
  • All electronics and entertainment items must be returned within 30 days for a refund or exchange. For these items purchased between 11/1 – 12/25, the 30-day refund period will start on 12/26.
  • All mobile phones must be returned or exchanged within 14 days. All items purchased with a carrier contract at a Target store must be returned or exchanged within 14 days and may be subject to early termination fees per carrier contract. Contract items and carrier plans must be sold and returned by a Target Tech Rep.
  • All Apple® products, excluding mobile phones, must be returned within 15 days.  For these items purchased between 11/1-12/25, the 15-day refund period will start on 12/26.
  • more

And so on… This is a short example of a Return Policy, this is not Target’s complete return policy. Please click the link if you’re really interested in reading that.

Anyway, this is to show exactly how a Return Policy should be written. It is written in clear, concise, everyday language. It is not written in legalese jargon that requires interpretation. Let’s compare this to what Sony considers a return policy for its digital goods.

Sony’s Return Policy which isn’t

The difficulty with Sony is that Sony US chooses not to create an actual store return policy and instead chooses to rely on its “Terms of Service” to cover for the lack of an actual return policy. When you ask someone on the chat service to give you a link to the PlayStation store’s U.S. return policy, they give you the following link.

Here’s the link to Sony’s “Terms of Service” agreement:

As you can see from this link, it is a legal document labeled “Terms of Service”. This is a legal agreement, not a Return Policy. Buried within this Terms of Service legal agreement, there is a section labeled Wallet. Here is where the return options are listed, but in fact, they aren’t really listed at all. Under the section Wallet, begins the information about purchases, which is about as clear a mud. But, let’s examine this mess they call a policy.

WALLET

Your Account has an associated wallet, and all purchases made on PSN Services, including purchases funded from an outside payment source (e.g., a credit card or PayPal account) at the time of the purchase, are made through the wallet. Your children’s Accounts that are associated with your Account do not have a separate wallet, and all purchases made by them will be made through your wallet. Wallet funds have no value outside PSN and can only be used to make purchases through PSN Services and certain Third Party Services. You can only hold a certain maximum amount of funds in your wallet as determined by us (“Limit”), using either (i) a credit or debit card; (ii) a prepaid card or promotional code with a specified value where available; or (iii) other payment methods approved by us and made available from time to time in each specific country. FUNDS ADDED TO THE WALLET ARE NON-REFUNDABLE AND NON-TRANSFERABLE EXCEPT WHERE THE LAW REQUIRES THAT WE TAKE THOSE ACTIONS. WE HAVE NO OBLIGATION TO REVERSE OR REFUND UNAUTHORIZED CHARGES MADE USING ANY PAYMENT METHOD TO FUND THE WALLET. WALLET FUNDS THAT ARE DEEMED ABANDONED OR UNUSED BY LAW WILL NOT BE RETURNED OR RESTORED.

blah blah blah… a bunch of legalese jargon that no one wants to read. But wait, there’s more to read….

TRANSACTIONS All transactions made through your Account or an associated Account of your child are solely between you and SIE LLC. By completing a transaction through your Account or allowing a transaction to take place through an associated Account of your child, you are (i) agreeing to pay for all transactions made by you or your children, , including recurring charges for subscriptions that are not cancelled; (ii) authorizing SIE LLC to deduct from the wallet and charge your credit card or other applicable payment instrument or payment mechanism all fees due and payable for all your transactions; and (iii) agreeing to any applicable Usage Terms and terms associated with use of the particular PSN Service. All transactions are final upon their completion and may be deemed to be governed by law and regulatory requirements applicable at the time the transaction was completed. PAYMENTS FOR ACCESS TO CONTENT OR SERVICES ARE NOT REFUNDABLE EXCEPT WHERE THE LAW REQUIRES THAT THEY ARE REFUNDABLE.

Pre-orders and Bundles. You may have the option to order a license for certain content in the form of bundles (such as seasons of television series) or a pre-order. We reserve the right to deduct funds from your wallet for any pre-order or bundle order at the time you order the content, but some or all of the content may not be available until it is released for license via the PSN Services.UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW, YOU MAY NOT CANCEL OR OBTAIN A REFUND FOR A PRE-ORDER OR AN ORDER FOR A CONTENT BUNDLE ONCE YOU PLACE YOUR ORDER, AND PRE-ORDERED CONTENT OR CONTENT INCLUDED IN A BUNDLE MAY BE CHANGED WITHOUT NOTICE.

Aha… here’s the meat of it!

Notice the ‘UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW’ provision. This is Sony’s legalese for telling you that they are leaving their return policy requirements in the hands of U.S. federal, state and local laws (if applicable). This means, it is your responsibility to understand and determine exactly what the laws govern returns in your jurisdiction. This is convoluted statement because most people aren’t knowledgeable or familiar with the laws that govern such returns in their jurisdiction. I have to assume Sony’s lawyers naively thought that no local jurisdictions legally covered this part of their “Terms of Service”.

Before I jump into what this statement means to you if you live in the U.S., let’s rant about why this is NOT a return policy. This document is a “Terms of Service” agreement. It is a legal document that governs your use of services. While it might cover some of what a return policy does, it in no way considered a comprehensive return policy. Compare this document to Target’s clearly written, concise, plain language readable policy above which clearly lays out classes of items and their respective return periods in explicit detail. A return policy is supposed to be written in plain language that anyone can understand. Sony’s “Terms of Service” document is anything but clear, concise and plainly readable. Sony’s document is designed to be read and interpreted by a lawyer, not a layman. Meaning, it is on you, the buyer, to understand all laws where you live.

Federal and State Laws

Before I begin here, I will state that I am not a lawyer and nothing in this article is intended to be construed as legal advice. If you have questions about laws in your jurisdiction, you should contact a lawyer where you live.

With that out of the way, because Sony has chosen to leave returns up to the laws in the buyer’s jurisdiction, thankfully it appears the US federal government has such a law that governs returns in these cases.

This federal rule that at first glance may be applicable to PlayStation store purchases seems to be the 3 day Cool-Down law. This is a contract law that states that you have the right to return anything within 3 days and receive your money back as long as you cancel the contract before midnight on the third day. However, it seems that this FTC rule doesn’t cover online sales, although in my opinion it should cover it. Regardless, it doesn’t mean you can’t make a complaint to the FTC regarding Sony’s refund policies.

State laws are a different matter. Because there are effectively 51 states (I’m including Puerto Rico as a state even though they haven’t yet gone through the statehood process), there are too many states to list each one’s return laws in this article. I will point you to this Findlaw article which has very concise information on the state by state laws regarding refunds and returns.

FTC Complaints and Consumer Protection

The primary methods that you have as a consumer for refund redress is 1) asking the company for a refund, 2) using the 3 day Cool-Down rule when applicable and 3) disputing the charge with your credit card company. Sony has control over all 3 of these. Because Sony has complete control over refunds, they can always deny them. Because the PlayStation’s stores sales are online, the 3 Day rule doesn’t apply. And finally, because a chargeback will lead Sony to terminate your PSN account in retaliation, you can’t perform chargebacks without losing all of your purchased content.

This is an unfair situation for the consumer. All of the possible consumer avenues to get a refund cannot be used against Sony. Sure, you can dispute with your credit card company if you’re willing to lose your PSN account. Most gamers are not willing to lose all of their digital content they’ve purchased over a single refund. This is really a scam that Sony has going here. Thankfully, state laws may apply.

California

I will cover California here simply because I have enough knowledge after reading California’s specific law regarding this issue. Keep in mind that all laws are open to interpretation such that a judge can interpret the subtleties and applicability of those laws to any circumstances and in any way that he or she deems appropriate. That means my interpretation isn’t necessarily the interpretation a court of law might rule for a given case. However, Sony does have a presence in California which strengthens California’s laws against Sony.

It seems that while physical presence retailers are bound by California law to post and maintain a comprehensive Return Policy within their place of business, this law appears to have not been updated to explicitly cover businesses performing online sales and which also have a presence in California. This means that online retailers may or may not have a loophole with regards to posting and maintaining a Return Policy. Though, if the law requires physical businesses to post a Return Policy, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t apply to online storefronts who also have a presence in California.

According to Findlaw, California law states that:

Retailers are required to clearly post their refund policy unless they offer a full cash refund, exchange, or store credit within seven days of the purchase date. Retailers failing this requirement are required to accept full refunds within 30 days of purchase.

Assuming that the word “Retailers” applies to online sellers who have a presence in California, this law may extend your refund rights to 30 days as Sony clearly doesn’t post an actual refund policy anywhere visible on either their storefront or on their main web site. If “Retailers” only applies to stores with a physical presence and this law does not apply to online retailers, then this provision wouldn’t apply. California seems a little behind on explicitly stating its laws also apply to online sellers doing business in California. This means that assuming California’s law applies to PlayStation store sales, it does so implicitly through interpretation of the law.

For this reason, you would have to talk to a lawyer and ask them to interpret California’s law and whether or not it applies to Sony’s online storefront. Personally, I’d interpret that this provision applies, but I am not a lawyer. I’d certainly argue that the law does apply when arguing for a refund with Sony when you also live in California. I also happen to know that Sony has a business presence within California in San Mateo which makes a difference when dealing with legal matters of business in California. If your state doesn’t have a Sony business presence, any laws governing “retailers” might not apply to Sony.

Not all states have consumer refund policy laws such as those in California. You’ll need to review that Findlaw article and look for your state to determine if such a law applies that might extend your refund rights.

Sony’s Cancellation Policy

You might be saying, “I just Googled and found this Cancellation Policy on Sony’s web site”. Remember when I said the return policies for Sony are fractured around the world? Well, here’s the example of this. While this web published Cancellation Policy is visible to the world (including U.S. residents), apparently it only applies the UK (even though it makes no mention of this in the article body itself).

Simply reviewing Sony’s Cancellation Policy, it states a refund policy of 14 days so long as the digital item has not been downloaded or streamed. It’s a reasonable policy if they enforced it in the U.S. However, they apparently do not offer this policy to U.S. buyers. Instead, if you talk to someone on Sony’s U.S. PlayStation Store chat service, they will point you to the above “Terms of Service” document for their return provisions. The U.S. PlayStation store reps claim the Cancellation Policy does not apply to U.S. store purchases.

By making this claim, it does two things, 1) it says Sony does not publish a comprehensive return policy anywhere on its web sites for U.S. buyers and 2) it states definitively that the published Cancellation Policy does not apply to U.S. buyers. This means that the “Terms of Service” provisions rule. This also means that if you live in a state with a law that states that failing to establish a visible return policy in a store front results in a 15-30 day return period. That also means Sony is obligated to uphold the legal requirements of that state. This is why the “UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW” statement is important to understand your return period for Sony PlayStation store digital goods.

This “Terms of Service” document squarely puts the burden on you the buyer to understand the laws in your jurisdiction governing Return Policies. Assuming your state extends your rights, you might have 15-30 days to return the item unopened.

Unopened Digital Items?

It’s best to follow the “Unopened” rule when asking for a refund of a digital item. What does “Unopened” mean on digital goods? It means you haven’t downloaded or streamed the product. Effectively, it is the same definition that’s in Sony’s UK-only Cancellation Policy. If you have downloaded or streamed the item, then the federal and state laws likely may not apply to the refund. To be safe and avoid arguments with Sony, stick to the unopened rule when attempting refunds. Pre-orders would automatically be considered unopened while still a pre-order.

Disputing Charges with your Card Issuer

Assuming you’ve bought your purchase directly with a credit card and not with wallet credit you bought via a gift card, you can always dispute this transaction with your card issuer. However, Sony has a provision in their “Terms of Service” for this:

Fees and Other Charges. We reserve the right to deduct from the wallet all bank fees related to any transactions or failed transactions (e.g, chargebacks from your bank or credit card provider) initiated by you or your children, including domestic and international transaction fees. We reserve the right to terminate your Account and any associated Accounts of your children for failure to complete transaction payments. In lieu of termination of your Account, we may elect to provide a mechanism by which you fund the wallet associated with your Account to prevent your Account (and any associated Accounts of your children) from being terminated.

What this says is Sony reserves the right to terminate your account over service fees or chargebacks. If you dispute a charge with your card issuer and your bank accepts your dispute, they will force a chargeback to Sony. This means Sony will likely retaliate against that chargeback and close your PlayStation Network account. If Sony does this, you will lose any wallet credit and any purchases that were linked to your account. If you had any significant amount of digital goods purchased, they’ll be gone. Weigh carefully the decision to dispute a charge through your bank. If you buy through PayPal, you do have PayPal’s buyer’s protection, but Sony may still retaliate against your PSN account if you dispute a charge via PayPal.

If you do choose to try a dispute, I’d suggest unlinking the card from your PSN account before you begin the dispute process with your bank. This may prevent Sony from easily tying the card back to your PSN account.

Buying Digital Goods

When you buy digital goods from stores like Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Sony, you need to carefully read and understand their rules. You’ll also need to understand the laws that govern where you live. Most digital sellers are reasonable for mistake purchases. However, Sony appears to be ruthless in not wanting to issue refunds at this point. In addition, they have the power to hold your PSN account hostage against your only means of consumer protection via credit card dispute. I’d complain to the FTC on this one alone. This is an entirely unethical business practice.

My point here is that you shouldn’t ever buy any digital goods from Sony. At least, not until they come to their senses and offer a reasonable return policy and publicly publish it on their PlayStation Store web site in a visible location.

If you get caught in a situation where you bought something you didn’t intend, try your best to get a refund. There are no guarantees Sony will honor any federal or state laws. If they choose to ignore these laws, report them to the FTC and to your state Attorney General’s office. If you don’t care if they close your PSN account, then by all means contact your credit card issuer and request a dispute against that charge. Good Luck.

Sony’s Corporate Legal Compliance and Responsibility

The “UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW” provision should be Sony’s legal responsibility. Legal compliance and maintaining compliance with all laws has always been and should remain a corporate burden. Since Sony has taken it upon themselves to state “UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW”, Sony should be required to keep a list of all laws in all jurisdictions and uphold those laws with regards to digital returns on PlayStation store purchases.

This means that when you call or chat into a Sony representative asking for a return, it should be the representative’s responsibility to ask you the city and state where you live, then pull up a reference document containing the laws for that jurisdiction. Then, determine if those local return window laws apply to your return before outright denying the return.

It should not be the buyer’s burden to inform the representative of local laws that apply in that jurisdiction. By forcing the buyer to inform the representative of applicable laws, it then forces the representative to make a decision regarding that return. If Sony has told their representatives to reject all such arguments as invalid, then Sony is in willful in violation of some state and federal laws. It also means that the burden of upholding laws has been left in the hands of phone or chat reps.

Sony, do you really want some of your lowest paid staff making corporate legal decisions for Sony and potentially putting Sony at legal risk?

As most corporations today are trying their best to mitigate legal risk, Sony seems to be willfully instigating legal risk at their own peril. Get with the program Sony and write a real Return Policy and post it on the checkout screen. It’s not hard! Otherwise, you need to take on the legal responsibility of informing your reps of which jurisdictions have laws that apply to digital returns.

To PlayStation Store Employees

If you work for the PlayStation Store as a chat or phone rep, you need to understand your own personal legal risks. Because you are being made to decide the fate of a return based on “UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW”, you could face personal legal penalties because Sony has placed you into this legally risky position. I’m pretty sure you didn’t sign any legal indemnity clauses when you hired onto the PlayStation Store. As an employee, it is not your responsibility to decide legal matters over the phone or via chat. If you make the wrong decision and that decision is illegal, you can be held personally liable for breaking that law in addition to Sony. Do you really need legal fines and jail time?

As a representative for Sony, you need to take this article to your management team and explain to them that you no longer wish to be legally responsible for Sony’s actions. Explain that you don’t want to be fined or jailed for making the wrong decision on the phone. That’s not part of your job. Your job is to answer the phone and perform returns. But, it is not your job to take on personal legal responsibility for Sony.

As a representative, you need to insist on corporate legal compliance. This means that you need to insist that it is Sony’s responsibility to provide you with all necessary legal information to ensure you always comply with federal, state and local laws for each and every return. Sony hires lawyers. Sony can get their lawyers to provide you with this legal compliance information. After all, those lawyers are getting paid a whole lot more than you as a representative. Let’s make those lawyers do some real work for a change. Better, ask your management team to publish an actual Return Policy on the checkout page of the PlayStation store, which fully describes return windows and avoids this entire legal problem.

I welcome comments regarding your personal experiences with Sony’s PlayStation U.S. store return policies. I’m also always interested in hearing any tricks you may have used that helped you get a refund.

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