‘Tis The Season For Shopping

It is coming up to the festive season and consumers are expected to be out doing their Christmas shopping. Some retailers have put out their catalogues while some have been advertising their stocks in the print and electronic media. In whatever way these retailers advertise, not all the relevant information consumers need to make informed choices would be available from the ads. The Fair Trading Commission (FTC), therefore, in keeping with its mandate to protect the interest of consumers, puts this advisory out into the public domain so that consumers can be aware of some of the pitfalls they should look out for when doing their shopping; and suppliers will know that consumers are aware of their rights.

Based on the types of consumer complaints received, the FTC now advises on issues relating to a number of matters, including warranties, concerns relating to electrical appliances, prices, delivery and free-gifts.

Warranties-Before committing to the purchase of a product, consumers must find out if a warranty is offered on the product and what the terms of the warranty are. These terms relate to duration of the warranty, consumer action which might render the warranty ineffective and exactly what is covered under the warranty. Consumers must also insist upon getting a warranty in writing. The FTC cannot seek enforcement of a verbal warranty.

A warranty period should start once the customer takes delivery of the item, and not anytime before that. Consumers are advised that if an appliance develops problems during the warranty period, they should never try to fix or allow anyone apart from the supplier or the supplier’s nominee to fix that appliance, because that action could make the warranty ineffective. A warranty could be voided too, if the item is used for some other purpose than that which the warranty covers.

Some warranties cover both labour and parts while some cover only parts or only labour. If a warranty covers both, the duration on each might be different. If the retailer has to replace an item which malfunctions during the warranty period, the full warranty period will start to run again in respect of the replacement item.

Prices – Consumers are advised to shop around for the best value. When comparing prices they must take into consideration the fact that some retailers quote their prices inclusive of General Consumption Tax (GCT) while others do not. The GCT Act does not make any stipulation in this regard.

Delivery – Some goods purchased will have to be delivered by the seller to a location named by the purchaser. It is very important for the consumer to know the retailer’s delivery policy. Perhaps delivery will not be made until a credit check has been done. This would apply to hire- purchase sales, for example. Depending on the nature of the good the consumer should decide whether it is in his best interest to accept delivery at night, for example. Colours can look different at night from they do in daylight. Defects can be masked at night. Based on complaints received by the FTC about non-delivery of items within the promised time frame, it appears that the main reason for late delivery is that goods are often not available at the time of sale. This constitutes a serious offence under the FCA; and one which entitles the consumer to a full refund.

Free gifts – So-called “free gifts” and chances to win various things are conditional upon purchases being made from the retailer. Thus the terms and conditions which are attached to the items being purchased apply also to the “free gifts”. They too must therefore satisfy the requirements of fitness for purpose and merchantability under the Sale of Goods Act. Note that, if for some reason, a purchase were rendered void, the purchaser would be required to return the gifts or to pay for them. Sometimes, the price tag of a “free gift” is not known until after the situation arises requiring that they be paid for. A consumer might do well to confirm the price of the “free gift” at the time of the purchase.

There are some “red flags” which consumers should look out for when shopping, for example:- stores which have a “no refund” policy; stores whose sales representatives are uncertain about basic information, like price, warranty, and delivery; stores which refuse to give a written warranty; stores which are unwilling to allow the consumer to test the item being bought; and stores which have no provision for exchange or return of items bought.

The FTC urges consumers to be very vigilant and to vote with their feet. They are advised to shop around and make informed choices. They should know their rights. In the event that they are dealt with unfairly, consumers are assured that as long as the retailer’s conduct falls within the ambit of the FCA, the FTC will do everything in its power to obtain redress and to have that retailer modify its behaviour to comply with the FCA.