Saturday 26 May 2007

New or used?

We heard recently from a shopper who had an incident involving his new cellphone.

We get quite a few calls from disgruntled shoppers about cellphones. I'm not sure whether this is because as a nation we are buying so many of the things or whether they are more likely than other products to be sold by crooks but whatever the reason there does seem to be a pattern.

This shopper had splashed out on a new top of the range phone that took pictures and videos and had all sorts of other clever technological features. He bought it from what he thought was a reputable store that, in the interests of self-protection, I'll just refer to as "Cell Town". That shouldn’t give it away, should it?

Anyway once he got his new toy home he began to become a little suspicious. Was it possible that the phone wasn't exactly new? Was it perhaps actually second-hand? Had someone used the phone before?

What gave him this impression? Was he being irrational and paranoid? Did he have any evidence?

Oh yes!

To begin with there were the entries in the phone’s “Address Book”. His supposedly new phone had in fact been used to store a number of phone numbers. Better still the phone already contained several amateur video clips. Not the demonstration video clips they often come with, these were clearly home made. Nothing naughty as far as I know but I’ll ask.

This is pretty damning evidence don’t you think? He isn’t complaining about fingerprints or scratches. He has real evidence that the phone isn’t new.

OK, it’s time for me to get all legal again. My current favourite reading material, The Consumer Protection Regulations 2001, states very clearly that a supplier

“fails to meet minimum standards and specifications” if:

“representation is made that the commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”.

Those last few words are pretty clear aren’t they? If you buy a cellphone in a cellphone shop and the phone you buy does NOT have the words “second hand” or “used” written all over it in great big glowing, preferably flashing, letters then you have a right to expect it to be new. If it then turns out to be second-hand or used then the store is in big mathata.

OK, so maybe one of the employees at “Cell Town” just borrowed the phone over the weekend? Does it really matter?

Well, I think it does. It matters. When I buy something new, when I’ve paid extra for something fresh off the production line I want it to be just that. New. Not handled, mucked around with or generally, well, used. That’s why I’m volunteering to pay extra rather than buying it second hand. There’s a principle at stake here.

We mentioned this story on our YaronaFM radio slot recently and what happened? Someone else called saying they had exactly the same experience. They bought a cellphone from the same place and found similar evidence that it wasn’t new. Is a pattern emerging here?

I suppose there are several possible explanations. Firstly perhaps “Cell Town” employees really are in the habit of borrowing phones over the weekend? It must be tempting when you are surrounded by all those wonderful flashy toys that will impress the guys and girls in the bar on Friday night but that doesn’t excuse deceiving your customers.

Second possibility. “Cell Town” take second hand cellphones from customers when they upgrade to the latest model. Quite often stores do this. They’ll discount the new flashy model in exchange for your old model which they can then sell as second hand. There’s nothing at all wrong with this except when they then sell your old, second-hand phone to another customer as “new”.

Third and final possibility. Are “Cell Town” by any chance receiving stolen goods? This one I’m prepared to reject immediately. It’s obviously not true. It can’t be. I refuse to believe it and neither should you. However it wouldn’t be that difficult for a store less reputable than “Cell Town” to pass off stolen goods as new. All it would take is some empty cellphone boxes and some stolen phones. But clearly that’s not the case here, so it must be either the first or second possibilities.

Frankly though it doesn’t matter. However it happened, whoever used the phone, it doesn’t matter. Our shopper bought a phone he honestly believed would be new and found out that it wasn’t. The store can either replace the phone with a genuinely new one or give the shopper all of his money back. And say sorry. And mean it. Otherwise it’s out of the shoppers hands, out of our hands and into the fists of the Consumer Protection Unit. End of story.

This week’s stars!

  • Tiny at HomeNet for helping to solve someone else’s problem. Seeing that the hairdressers next door was closed when a customer appeared he helped out, took a message and got the hairdressers to call back. Someone who sees the bigger picture!

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