Friday 9 May 2008

Give me your fakes...

At the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York, there is a brass plaque with an inscription. It’s rather long, deeply grandiose and is very, very bad poetry. However it does contain the famous line:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

Despite my feelings about the terrible poetry the statue has justifiably become a truly international symbol of liberty, opportunity and hope.

I’m tempted to have a statue constructed outside our office. It will be a half-naked, buxom woman (trust me, that bit’s compulsory) holding aloft a copy of the Consumer Protection Regulations. At the base it will say:

“Give me your fake cellphones, your dodgy perfumes and illegal product claims, your abused consumers struggling to get their money back”

We get more than our fair share of consumers who report to us their stories of fakery, crooked dealings, deception and lies.

We had a visitor this week who brought in a cellphone she had bought for over P1,000. It was very flash, very good looking and was from a very good manufacturer. Nokoa. Not Nokia, Nokoa. Should she have been surprised that it didn’t work? Should she have been surprised that when she took it back to the store they told her she would have to pay to have it repaired? Should she have been surprised when they completely refused to refund her money or replace it with a genuine phone?

No, she shouldn’t have been surprised at all. The name said it all. She must have realised that this was a fake. However, that doesn’t excuse the store from their obligation not to sell counterfeit goods. They were clearly trying to portray the cellphone as a Nokia and therefore sought to cause a probability of confusion regarding it’s source and that’s illegal.

Then there was another customer who spent P400 on a fancy perfume from a shop at Riverwalk Shopping Mall in Gaborone. She went there searching for her favourite scent but the store staff persuaded her to buy the extra special Chanel perfume. They even phoned the manager and negotiated a discount for her. So far so good. Well, it would have been if it wasn’t a fake bottle of perfume.

We’ve all seen people selling perfumes from little tables in shopping malls and we know they are obviously fakes but this was from a proper store. When she took it back they refused to do anything because she had opened the packet. Utter nonsense of course. That’s a bit like a restaurant saying you can’t send back the plate of rotten food because you took a bite before you realised it was bad.

Those of you who are into perfume, cosmetics and so-called beauty products, or those of you like me who are married to someone who is, will have come across Clarins. They sell an enormous range of products and they are a good example of my latest theory. Any company that uses the word “lifestyle” in it’s marketing materials doesn’t really have very much to offer.

Marketing companies seem to use the word “lifestyle” whenever they see a product that has little, if any, intrinsic value and instead try to conjure up an image how wonderful life would be if only you bought their vacuous products. It’s all about style rather than substance. There’s nothing wrong with packaging something attractively but when the product is no better than the cheap variety you get from your neighbourhood pharmacy or supermarket you should realise that sometimes it’s just the packaging your are buying. Oh and the lifestyle.

Clarins recently got into trouble in the UK. They launched a product called “Expertise 3P Screen Mist” which, they claim, is “Anti-Electromagnetic Waves & Urban Pollution”. According to their advertisements this scented water will protect you from the hazardous electro-magnetic waves issued by cellphones and the resulting aging effects thereof.

Rubbish. Meaningless, ignorant drivel. As it turns out, illegal rubbish. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority called Clarins and told them to cut it out. They instructed them to stop making up scientific-sounding nonsense and claiming that their product could fix a problem that simply didn’t exist.

I confess this last issue is more about fake claims rather than fake goods but fakery is fakery, however and wherever it appears.

So what’s the lesson about counterfeit goods?

By all means buy them. But understand that if you knowingly buy a counterfeit product you are on your own. Nobody will help you. If you buy a fake Nokia phone, find it doesn’t work and you take it to Nokia they are perfectly entitled to show you the door. You have virtually no consumer rights with counterfeit goods. However that’s true if you knew they weren’t the real thing when you bought them. If a supplier sold you something and led you to believe it was the real thing but you later find out it was counterfeit then you can at least go back to that supplier and demand your money back. Don’t ask for a replacement because that store can’t be trusted.

And if they don’t offer you a complete refund, instantly? Then bring the product to us and we’ll do it for you.

Next time you’re in a store and you see something on a shelf that you’re convinced is a counterfeit you should stand there, point at it and in your loudest voice tell the owners to remove it from the shelf. Try the phrase “Fake Off”.

This week’s stars!

  • Botlale Joseph at Shell Village Plaza for great service, recognising a regular and being attentive.
  • Leungo at Birds of a Feather for being willing to listen and fix a problem.

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