Friday 2 November 2007

The good, the bad and the ugly

Consumer Watchdog is on a mission at the moment. For several weeks we’ve been going on and on about our recent discovery. The 1974 Control of Good (Marking of Goods) Regulations and the things that stores must do if they want to stay in business.

You may have heard of the new National Credit Act that was passed in South Africa in 2005 but that actually came into force in June this year. This governs the use of credit as a way of buying things. Now of course this only applies to South Africa but we could learn a lot from it. There are endless regulations on who can be given credit, how credit bureaux can operate and the information and remedies customers are entitled to. One of the best bits is Section 21 which states that if something is advertised or offered for sale on credit then the store MUST disclose various things. Most importantly they must advertise “the total amount of all instalments, including interest, fees and compulsory insurance”. It’s very simple. The advertisement must tell you the cash price and then the total credit price. No hiding behind just how much each instalment will be and how many you must pay.

BUT, this only covers South Africa. It doesn’t apply to Botswana.

Who cares?

We have the Control of Good (Marking of Goods) Regulations. Thirty-three years ago we passed a law that says exactly the same. Sorry South Africa, you were a late arrival at the democracy party and you’re a late arrival at the regulated credit party.

Our regulations say almost exactly the same thing. Whenever something is offered for sale on credit, right next to the cash price the store must show “the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments”. The trouble is, I can’t help but wonder why, if these regulations came into effect 33 years ago, nobody has demanded that they be enforced?

Ask yourself whether you have EVER seen the total credit price advertised. I haven’t, not once. Not ever.

So anyway, being the busybody trouble makers that we are we wrote to all the stores we could think of asking what they thought about the regulations and why they weren’t abiding by them. Now I confess that’s a bit of a trick question. We can’t really expect someone to abide by a regulation they’ve never heard of. Surely though we would expect that the various bodies who are there to protect us like the Consumer Protection Unit, the local councils, the Ministry of Trade & Industry would have done something? Seems like they didn’t know about the regulations either.

In case you’re interested you can see a copy of out letter on our web page. So what reaction did the letter have?


A few stores have completely ignored us, so far at least. A couple had the good manners to acknowledge the letter and tell us that they’ll get back to us once they’ve consulted with their legal advisors, marketing teams and probably their psychiatrist.

However there was some good news. Almost within minutes we had a call from Mmabalao in Gaborone who said they wanted us and the public to know that they don’t sell on credit at all. They do lay byes but they don’t like the credit idea one little bit. Loads of Living got in touch and said the same thing. Good for them.

Then a minor miracle. Ellerines got in touch and they just staggered us. Put simply their letter said:

“Whoops! Sorry. We’re fixing it.”

Then they went even further and explained that they’ve already printed all their promotional material for Christmas but they’re going to print some posters and handbills that will explain to customers how to work out the total payment and that Ellerines staff will help customers to do the calculations. Lastly they assured us that all their materials will abide by the regulations by February next year.

Stunning, simply stunning. A store that respects it’s customers and that is prepared to do what it needs to do to help them.

We’re not in the business of advertising or even endorsing any company’s products (other than our own of course) but this really does impress us. We’re not saying people should buy from Ellerines but we will say this. Take your hard-earned money to a store that respects you, to a store that clearly realises that customers are important enough to help them and treat them properly and to a store that is willing to abide by the law!

So I wonder how the other stores will respond. Rest assured we’ll let you know what every one of them says. We’ll also tell you which ones won’t respond!

This week’s stars!

  • Mark at Ellerines for showing how it’s done.
  • Andrew at Haskins for going completely out of his way to help a customer with an urgent need.

We still have Wimpy vouchers to give away. Our friends 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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