Friday 12 October 2007

Dear Store Owner

I think it’s time for me to write to store owners and explain a few things to them.

Not all stores, just those that seem to think that disobeying the law is acceptable. In particular those with the great-looking offers of things you can take home today but you pay for over the next couple of years.

Firstly there’s our latest discovery. The Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974. These are the regulations that insist that anything sold “on hire-purchase terms or by way of credit-sale” must disclose “the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments”. As well as the details of how many instalments there should be, what the deposit is and so on the total amount must be displayed. What’s more they can’t hide it away in tiny little letters somewhere you’ll never find it. The Regulations go on to say that the total price must be displayed “in characters of similar size”. So stop hiding it all away from us ok? It’s illegal and if you don’t stop soon someone is going to report you to the relevant authorities.

Did I mention that the original Control of Goods Act says that if you breach the regulations you can go to jail for up to 6 months? A year if it’s your second offence.

So unless you want to savour the hospitality of the Prisons Department and their charming prison food and accommodation I suggest you start quoting the full prices. OK?

Then there’s the issue of confusing your customers. The Consumer Protection Regulations make it very clear that you may not do anything that causes “a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”. So why do you all do this?

Here’s a little secret for stores. A small but significant proportion of the people that visit your stores and enquire about your credit schemes actually work for us. We employ a huge team of mystery shoppers that help us do our day job. We are paid by several organisations to mystery shop them and then to report back on the results. It’s all very scientific, we analyse an enormous range of factors but that’s not the point, you can call us if you want to learn more about that. What matters is that many of our mystery shoppers also volunteer to go into stores in their spare time and try to expose any shady dealings we suspect might be there. Of course most of the time they come back with really good news. However, quite a few stores really aren’t thinking carefully about their actions.

For instance, what about the stores that refuse to let you see the contract they want you to sign until you actually sign it? Don’t you think that might very easily lead a customer into signing a contract they don’t understand? Isn’t that causing “a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”? How can you expect someone to understand a contract they only see after they’ve been forced to sign it?

Anyway, stop doing it OK? It’s illegal and the authorities can close you down if you don’t stop. Oh and your customers will stop buying from you when they find out.

Even if you do let the customer read through your contract beforehand you should also make sure what they are reading is understandable. What about when you get a customer who clearly only speaks Setswana and the contract is in English? Well, the law is quite clear. You are simply forbidden from:

“taking advantage of a consumer's inability reasonably to protect his interests by reason of … inability to understand the language of an agreement”

If he only speaks Setswana and your contract is only in English then you’re in trouble! What are you going to do about that?

I’m not going to tell you the answer. You can either work it out for yourself or send us a cheque!

Finally there’s my favourite. OK, I don’t mean that. The products I despise the most. Useless, fake, nonsensical health products that offer you miracles when in fact all they offer you is a dent in your bank balance. Whether it’s some ridiculous herbal rubbish that says it will cure diabetes or some wobbling electric belt that claims to melt away fat but in fact braais your stomach they’re all nonsense and all are illegal. Yes, they’re illegal.

Their crime is to promise “outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis”. These things simply don’t work. But then neither do homeopathy, reflexology, acupuncture or hypnosis. None of them actually do what they claim to do. Well, no more than a sugar pill does.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for shops to start obeying the law. Almost every one of their customers does after all, very few of us are shoplifters so I think we can expect the same, perhaps even better from them don’t you?

This week’s stars!

  • Fungay at Nandos at Game City in Gaborone for being cheerful and making a customer laugh.
  • Mmoni from Wesbank for brilliant attitude and for being very respectful.

We have goodies to give away. The good people at Wimpy have donated lots of P50 vouchers for us to give away to our readers. All you have to do is nominate someone who you think delivers excellent service and YOU get a Wimpy voucher. They get celebrated here in Mmegi, we’ll write to their Managing Director praising them and they get to come to our next Consumer Watchdog Party to be celebrated by you-know-who.

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