Friday 16 December 2005

A new target for Consumer Watchdog

This week’s column is going to be a little different. This week we’re going to do our best not to say anything bad about stores, restaurants, banks, micro-lenders, loan sharks or indeed anyone who sells us anything. All of these people have been on the receiving end of our attention over the last 9 months and for just one week we’re going to give them a break.

So, who is our target this week? Who is the poor, unfortunate victim? Whose weekend are we going to spoil?


Yes, you, the consumer.

OK, so maybe you think our job is to stand up for consumers? Maybe you think Consumer Watchdog is here just to support consumers who have been exploited, abused and disrespected?

Well, yes, that’s one of the things we are here to do. However, one of our most important (self-appointed) missions is to educate and inform customers and BOY have we got a long way to go!

Yes, we realise that the consumer community in Botswana is still young. We know how recently we got large shopping malls and what limited choice we had 10 years ago. So much of what we have now is recent so perhaps many of us aren’t used to variety, choice and competition.

But this is no excuse for gullibility, for accepting abuse like we don’t deserve better and for not standing up for our rights.

Why do we continue to fall for appalling store credit schemes? Why do we voluntarily sign up for store credit schemes that make us pay back so much more than the cash price? A recent offer we saw involved the highest proportional finance charges we had ever seen. The item on offer was a DVD player. If you had cash it would cost you P399. However if you opted for their credit scheme you would pay back over 2 years a grand total of P2,207! These figures are just ridiculous! If, instead of signing the credit agreement, you invested the monthly repayment amount in one of the new high interest, zero-charge bank accounts you could buy the same DVD player for cash after just 4 ½ months! And on top of that the bank would give you enough interest to rent your first DVD!

But the worst thing is that the reason this store advertises this scheme must be that people actually fall for it! Why would they waste money advertising if people didn’t select it?

It also still surprises us when we hear of consumers giving away their ATM cards and PIN numbers to loan sharks and the slightly more legitimate micro-lenders. Surely everyone knows that this is extreme foolishness? Would they trust any other total stranger with something as important as their ATM card?

Why do shoppers fall for it? We sometimes feel that consumers switch off their higher order brain functions when they see something they want. They are willingly persuaded by suppliers to do things that they must know are deeply foolish.

As we’ve said before in this column the answer to all this can be found in our pocket or purse. Look at a P5 coin. What does it say?


We need to rely on ourselves. Read what Dichaba Molobe has to say in his column in this paper every week. He writes a lot of good sense about self-reliance and the “entitlement mentality” we sometimes show. It’s genuinely not government’s fault that we sign up for these agreements. It’s not society’s fault either. Yes, some of the stores are exploiting us but it’s fundamentally our own fault. We really must begin to take responsibility for our own actions, particularly when it comes to money.

Don’t we all know by now that credit schemes are hugely expensive? Even if we aren’t so good at the maths surely we can tell that they’re ripping us off?

Don’t we know that loan sharks do NOT have our best interests at heart? They are lending us money so that they can make money and many of them go to extremes to get our money from us.

We must mature, get a grip and show some self-reliance. We can’t expect Government, suppliers and society in general to take the blame when we get ourselves into desperate financial problems because we’ve done something unwise.

As Karl Marx almost said, “Shoppers of the world, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your bad credit rating!”

This week’s stars!

  • Meshack nominated the team at TJ Trimmers who attended to his needs and didn’t even charge him! Both the manager and Paul win a Watchdog Christmas voucher for being service stars.
  • Tom called to nominate Enrico at Debonairs who not only apologised in writing for a mix-up but sent Tom’s kids ice cream to say sorry. A Woolworths voucher worth P100 donated by Standard Chartered goes to Enrico.
  • Neo celebrated Topollo at FNB who arranged to have Neo’s replacement credit card sent ahead to her in South Africa. A Game City worth P250 voucher goes to Topollo.
  • Boitumelo nominated Mr Bossman from Lewis who gets a Woolworths voucher worth P100 donated by Standard Chartered for responding to a customer’s complaint so well.
  • Lydia nominated Otsile from KFC for delivering a real “wow factor” and she’ll get a voucher.
  • Kabelo at BTC gets a P250 voucher donated by Stanbic bank for being a star. Kabelo is clearly passionate about service and has been nominated over and over again. BTC should be proud of him.
  • Lalala at Stanbic was nominated by Richard for being just fantastic and she gets a P250 voucher donated by Barclays.
  • Ellen nominated Teddy from TD Builders. She says he’s the first builder she’s ever met who does a job on time and within the quoted price. He’ll get a Christmas voucher for being unique!

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