Friday 5 May 2006

Caveat vendor

Last week I wrote about “caveat emptor” – a Latin phrase that means “Let the Buyer Beware”. The point is that it is generally speaking the buyer, you and me, who must be cautious when buying goods or services from a supplier. After all it’s our money that’s we’re spending. Once the money has changed hands we are the ones who have to make sure that things actually go well.

Well, yes, that’s all very well. We know that. We’ve all received poor service, poor quality goods, a generally second rate experience when we spend OUR hard-earned money. Everyone knows it.

However, I think things are changing. Maybe not very quickly, but they are. So here’s a new bit of Latin. Something for those of us who aren’t prepared to be abused any more. For those of us who’ve had enough.

Caveat vendor.

Let the Seller Beware!

Let’s take the battle back to the supplier. Let’s stand up for ourselves and use this as a battle cry when we go in for the kill.

I heard recently from a good friend who had a bad experience but who just refused to be abused. He showed all the courage and backbone that customers should show every time. It’s a very long story but this is an abbreviated version.

He owned a car that he wanted to sell. However this was proving to be harder than he originally thought. After a while he gave up and took it to one of those companies that does the selling for you in return for a cut of the sale price. Their cut was to be 7% which when you think about it is actually pretty reasonable. Isn’t it?

Well, perhaps in principle.

It took a while but eventually they told him that they had found a buyer who had bought it for P35,000. This was a bit lower than he hoped but he was happy to get it off his hands and get some cash for it.

Then things started to smell a little fishy. To begin with they told him that they had agreed with the buyer to spend P3,000 on repairs and a service for the car. No matter how reasonable this might be it was NOT what he had agreed with them. Then mysteriously they weren’t able to show him any receipts for the sale or the repairs. They then became rather elusive and after a long series of daily visits by him and even his wife they lost their tempers completely and said he should talk to their attorneys.

Now wouldn’t you be extremely suspicious by now? Wouldn’t you have a suspicion that in fact they’d sold the car for a higher price and were keeping the difference?

So anyway, once they became all difficult and mentioned attorneys he gave us a call. Kate made a few calls and we were about to consider using one of our favourite lines (“Oh Yes? Well our attorneys are MUCH bigger and better than yours!”) when we heard from my friend.

Being the sort of awkward, irritating and challenging customer that he is, he had been very smart and extremely ingenious. He had managed to find the guy who bought the car!!!

And how much did the buyer actually pay for the car? P40,000!

Well, not surprisingly the selling agency very quickly coughed up a cheque for the difference between what they had originally paid him and what he actually deserved. They knew that they had been found out, they knew our friend had a cast-iron case, they knew they had been very bad little boys. Oh and they knew our lawyers were significantly bigger and better than theirs!

So is my friend happy? Actually he is and feeling justifiably proud of himself.

So what is there to celebrate about his achievement? Well, firstly he did everything that we suggest consumers do. He had a profound sense that something was wrong and he did not give up. He made it perfectly clear to them what he wanted, he was confident that he was being reasonable and at all times he behaved in a calm and measured fashion. And most importantly he dug in his heels and absolutely refused to take No for an answer.

Secondly, almost everything that he achieved he did entirely by himself.

This is one of our most important pieces of advice to consumers. By all means call on us, on the Consumer Protection Unit, your attorneys, whoever it takes but remember that it’s fundamentally your responsibility. Caveat emptor, remember?

But take the battle to the supplier. Put on your armour (your confidence), load your weapons (your very reasonable, careful arguments) and practice your battle cry (“Caveat vendor!”). Then go and sort it out.

This week’s stars!

  • Geoffrey at Water Utilities for going out of his way to ensure that a problem was fixed. Not only did he make sure the problem was fixed but he called back to make sure it had been fixed to the customer’s satisfaction.
  • Motale at Debonairs Pizza for putting the customer first. Something went wrong but he fixed it with style. Not only did he offer the customer a replacement pizza the following day but it arrived with a top-of-the-range apology from the Regional Manager.

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