Friday 17 February 2006

More of the whole truth

A couple of weeks ago we wrote a column entitled “The whole truth”. This was about the sale of a purely hypothetical DSTV recording device. This fictitious item was sold on the basis of marketing and sales claims that, it turned out, weren’t 100% open and correct. Our objection was mainly to the behaviour of the organisation in question who marketed the item on the basis of very selective information. They were very keen to sell us the benefits of the thing but strangely reluctant to explain fully the requirements of the device. To their credit the organisation in question (and you can no doubt all guess who they are) have contacted us and assured us that they have heard what we said and are going to change their marketing approach. Good for them of course – let’s watch!

We’ve noticed that this sort of thing is not limited to selling pieces of technology that do really clever things with satellite TV. The same sort of “tricks” can be seen in a range of industries. It seems that a proportion of the commercial world rely on selective truth to sell us things. A whole lot of companies seem to think that by deceiving us that they can make money.

Just recently we heard about a Furniture store that had managed to do something similar. Our reader called us to tell about the experience she had with this store when she tried to buy a dining room table worth P6,995.

She went into the store and was persuaded that she could buy the table on a 3-month interest-free credit scheme. So far so good you might think. Even better was that because she had shopped with them before and had been “a good customer” they offered her P1,000 off the asking price. What could go wrong?


To begin with they persuaded her to sign a 24-month interest-bearing contract. When she asked them about this they told her that so long as she paid off the entire debt within 3 months they would waive all the extra charges. However they conveniently neglected to put this in writing. Funny that, eh? All she had to do was sign various forms and things would be OK she was told.

Our reader paid a deposit of P2,000 and then her first instalment of another P2,000. Only P2,000 until she had paid it all off. What could go wrong?


Just before she made the last payment she discovered that the table was actually faulty. When she didn’t get a suitable response to her complaint from the store she decided to withhold the last P2,000 payment. Looking back this really wasn’t a smart move.

A year later, and despite hassling the store repeatedly, she finally heard from the store’s Attorneys instructing her to pay up the outstanding amount. Were they asking for the remaining P2,000? No. They wanted a total of P7,300!

When the reader got a copy of her statement she was surprised to find a number of extras that seemed to have slipped past her attention when she first signed the credit agreement. As she had actually signed a 24-month interest-bearing account there were finance charges of nearly P2,000, but most surprising of all was an insurance scheme that she hadn’t noticed before. This was costing her a staggering total of P3,036 on top of the purchase price of P6,000. According to the store when we contacted them this insurance provided a range of benefits to the customer including life cover that meant in the event of her death, her family would get a pay out. However, we were sceptical. What insurance scheme charges more than 50% of the purchase price in premiums? 50%??? How can this be correct?

Then we thought some more. If it was a life insurance policy that benefited the customer’s relatives, why was she never asked for their names and contact details? Why was she never given a copy of the policy? Why was she not even told about it?

Well, the answer’s simple, isn’t it? There WAS no life insurance cover. None at all. To check this we sent one of our mystery shoppers to the store to ask about buying some things. She was also told, when she pushed, that insurance would be added to the credit price. On this occasion it came to more than a quarter of the purchase price. She wasn’t allowed to take a copy of the insurance policy document away with her but when she insisted they did show her a copy of it. What did it contain? Funnily enough it did NOT contain any life benefits at all. All it covered the customer for was fire, theft (provided forced entry could be proved) and for the repayment of the credit in the event of death. No life benefits at all.

Now we obviously won’t accuse the store of lying to our reader when they said it included life cover. Maybe they were just mistaken. Or maybe they were guilty of what Winston Churchill called a “terminological inexactitude”?

So what are we asking for?

Come on stores! Be honest! Be open! Be truthful with us. Tell us the whole truth. It’s not too much to ask, surely? Please make sure that you really DO draw our attention to everything we need to know. Please make sure we know about everything you’ll charge us for a year later.

If you want us to take out insurance that benefits you, the store, can’t you at least be honest about it? And don’t hide your profit-making behind ridiculously priced insurance schemes. It just seems dishonest.

And one last question for stores. Why have none of you responded to our plea for you to contact us to discuss a Voluntary Store Credit Charter? Do you have something to hide?

This week’s stars!

  • Bossey at Postnet at Kgale View for “making my day”. Apparently Bossey was incredibly cheerful, helpful and friendly and all this on a Friday morning too!
  • Denise at Solitaire estate agents for service beyond the call of duty.
  • Irene at Department of Information & Technology for taking the time to phone a supplier to say their cheque was ready! See it can be done in Government!

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