Friday, 25 April 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice


I recently bought a cellphone from a popular phone store.  Everything was fine with the phone except it already contained someone else’s contacts and text messages.  When I bought it I assumed that the phone was new but this suggests that the phone was actually second-hand.


What can I do?  Can I return the cellphone and insist on a new one?


Yes you can.  You most certainly can.  We’ve heard about this sort of thing many times and often about this particular chain of stores.  Several people have contacted us with the same experience.  They bought what they were led to believe was a new phone only to find evidence that someone else had previously used it.  Some, like you, found contacts and text messages, others even found photos and videos.


It seems very clear.  Either the phone is in fact second-hand or perhaps someone at the store has been using it themselves before selling it to you.  Either way the Consumer Protection Regulations say that a store is in deep trouble.  If they claim something is new “when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand” they are in for trouble.


Someone once told us that it is common for this chain of stores to buy large quantities of second-hand phones from other countries, import them to Botswana and then sell them as new.  We have no hard evidence of this yet but perhaps our readers can supply it?


You should go back to the store immediately and demand a replacement or a complete refund.  If they give you even the slightest trouble get in contact with us and we’ll give them a call and explain the error of their ways.  If we can get enough people who have had the same experience from that store we’ll expose the whole thing, including the names of the store and of it’s owners and directors.  Maybe some public same will help them shape up!


Credit where credit’s due

I have SUCH mixed feelings about credit. On the one hand of course credit is a good thing. It’s just a form of borrowing and almost all of us borrow money from time to time. Very few of us can afford to buy cars or houses for cash. We have to go to a bank, fill in forms, have every last part of our lives examined and, if we’re lucky, we are lent the vast sums needed to get hold of some property or wheels.

There’s nothing shameful about this. The richest people, the largest companies and even nations do it. Luckily we live in a country that isn’t hugely in debt to the rest of the world but borrowing is around us every day.

The down side to the credit experience is the shameful exploitation, naiveté and, frankly, gross negligence we often see.

Scandalous. That’s the best way to describe what we sometimes see. It’s a scandal. A few months ago a large furniture store we walked past had a big poster up in the window which offered a range of irresistible items, including a bedding protector. This glorified sheet was available for cash for the modest sum of P199. Immediately beneath the cash price it said that you could also buy this on credit.

After a deposit of P72 you would then pay the store 24 monthly instalments of P70. Do the maths. Even if you can’t do the maths in your head or you don’t have a calculator handy can’t you see that that is a hell of a lot of money compared to the cash price of P199? The total amount for this fancy sheet on credit is a staggering, jaw-dropping, shameful, outrageous and scandalous P1,752.

That’s nearly nine times as much as the cash price.

First thing. If you can’t afford to spend P199 in cash on a sheet then you can’t afford it at all. Do not buy it. Go without.

Second thing. The store is breaking the law. There’s currently no limit on the extra amount that a store can charge when you buy things on credit. However what they ARE obliged to do, by law, is to tell you up front what the total repayment will be. Section 6 (e) of the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974 says that “where goods are offered for sale… by way of credit sale” then the store must display, “in characters of similar size”, “the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments”. By not stating this the store was breaking the law.

Third thing. Why would anyone in their right mind buy this on such a scandalous basis? Where are our brains? Where are our mental arithmetic skills? Where are our cellphones with the built-in calculators? I know it’s scandalous that stores try to exploit consumers with these schemes but why do WE volunteer for them? Nobody is made to sign a credit agreement at gun-point. We sign them all by ourselves.

Back to the scandal. Why won’t most stores let us take credit agreements away with us to think about them overnight? Why do they pressurise us to sign instantly? Why? Because they know they’ll then have us trapped. We saw a credit agreement some while ago that had a tiny little clause at the end that said “I have fully understood the terms and conditions of this sale which have been fully explained to me and I undertake not to contend to the contrary”.

Put more simply this says “I’m a liar if I ever say they lied to me”.

The same agreement says that “I have examined the Goods and XXXXX has made no representation and no warranty to me including this sale. The Goods have been sold to me as seen, inspected and approved by me”.

Now that is just a bare-faced LIE. They ask you to sign an agreement that confirms you have already inspected goods that haven’t even been shipped to you yet?

Anyway, we all know this sort of things happens, we’re all intelligent people and none of us would fall for such rubbish. Would we?

So is there any good news? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Well, there is a bit.

We were invited last week to the launch of a new initiative by TransUnion and BotswanaPost. TransUnion is an international credit information agency that records details on consumers and their credit history, both the good and the bad. They’ve been in Botswana for years, previously known as ITC or TransUnion ITC.

With BotswanaPost they’ve launched a new scheme which allows consumers to see their own credit record at post offices throughout the country. It’s starting at three post offices in Gaborone at the Station, Central and Bontleng branches. For P30 you and I can see one of their dedicated staff and get a full listing of our record. This will show our basic contact details, every application we’ve made for credit and every time we’ve done something bad. It’s the same information the banks and stores can see about us. This will allow you and I to see why something might have been declined but most importantly to check that the information held on us is correct.

So yes, there IS some good news. It doesn’t stop stores misbehaving but it does give us a bt of control over the information they keep on us. Who knows, perhaps if you discover that your credit record is squeaky clean you can even get a discount on that next car loan?

This week’s stars!

  • Ane from Pharma West at Game City for extraordinary service.
  • Scott at Medswana for really WOWing a customer.

Friday, 18 April 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice


My wife and I bought some leather sofas from a store in Letlhakane early last year and the manager assured us that they had genuine leather uppers.


However, to our surprise the sofas started fading colour and also the leather areas are wearing thin.


We have been to the shop several times but all we get is excuses.  The first time the manager promised to come to our house to view them but it was 3 months before his staff arrived.  He eventually came himself but only after I insisted.  He claims that he had trouble with transport because their delivery vehicle was faulty.  He now says that he can see nothing wrong with the sofas.  When I asked him to put that in writing he said he has to speak to his manager in South Africa.  Now he says he can’t call him because someone stole their phone cables.


I am sick and tired of this man’s excuses.  Please help me.  Can I get my P15,000 back?


This sounds very much like a store manager trying to evade his responsibilities to me.  His transport difficulties and the alleged theft of phone cables are nothing to do with you.  Hasn’t he got a cellphone?  Don’t they have email?  Which century are they in?  It’s all a lot of nonsense and evasion.


I suggest that you take some photos of the leather and the faded areas of the sofa, comparing them to areas that haven’t faded and send them to us.  We’ll get in touch with the South African managers and let them know that their store in Letlhakane has let you down massively.  For P15,000 you are entitled to something that will last for decades, not just a few months.  We’ll let you know their response.


Meanwhile the lesson is not to accept feeble excuses.  Remember that their problem is not your problem.  Also don’t wait for a store to contact their Head Office.  You can do it as well!

Who can you trust?

Many years ago I worked for a bank in the Republic of Ireland called Allied Irish Bank. AIB also operated in Northern Ireland which of course remains politically part of the United Kingdom. I’m not going to get into the long, tortured history of Ireland but you may understand that in the North the word “Irish” has all sorts of political connotations. Certain parts of the community object to anything being called Irish when they firmly identify themselves as British. So when AIB wanted to start up an operation in the North they realised that their name had to change. The majority of the community would refuse to give their money to an organisation that called itself “Allied Irish”.

So they came up with a new name. First Trust Bank.

They probably paid some media company a fortune to come up with that name but it did work rather well. Everyone wants to be First but the critical word was Trust. It hinted that this was an organisation that was reliable, dependable and that gave you confidence, all things you want from a bank.

So what has this got to do with us? I started thinking about trust when we received a complaint from a shopper who felt distrusted by a store. She went to return some clothes she had bought for her husband (what a sweetheart!) which turned out to be too big. Obviously not quite as hunky as she imagined.

The distrust she experienced started with the security guard at the door. He stopped her rather aggressively and demanded that she explain why she was bringing their merchandise into the store rather than out of it. When she explained he made her remove every single item, each one to be individually inspected and recorded. Finally she was allowed into the store and ended up with the customer services staff. Exactly the same procedure had to be followed again and finally the customer service operative agreed that the items could be exchanged for the correct size. Well, not quite. Only the store manager could authorise the exchange. When she finally arrived the same procedure had to be followed yet again.

Our reader’s point was not that there were security controls in the store, she understood that. I’m sure we all do. We all know that stores lose a lot to theft and if they don’t put security measures in place we consumers end up paying for it. Her point was that the whole thing made her feel like a criminal. She felt distrusted.

Surely there is a way that stores can execute proper security without making us feel like crooks? We trust them to deliver decent products and services so can’t they at least give the impression of trusting their law-abiding customers?

It can happen. I was in a store recently with my laptop in it’s bag over my shoulder. The security guard was very apologetic but instead of distrusting me he quickly checked the bag and put a little sticker on the laptop to show it was mine, not theirs. He did it politely, with a smile and it was all pain-free. They didn’t make me feel like a criminal.

Those of you who’ve eaten at Primi Piatti or the Caravela in Gaborone (yes, here I go again) will have noticed quite the opposite. I’m not talking about the food, the welcome or the prices, I’m talking about being trusted with the toilet paper. The trust bottom line?

Both of these places have decided not to lock the toilet paper away in miniature prison cells bolted to the wall of the toilet. They have decided not to tell their valued customer that they believe they’re going to steal the toilet paper. Of course they take a risk but they prefer to show they have some trust in their customers. They don’t assume that they are thieves.

It works both ways though. As well as stores showing us that they trust us, we should also decide who WE trust. Who can we rely on to supply us with decent products?

I don’t trust a computer store that refuses to repair a computer because they decided retrospectively that one component of a reader’s PC (coincidentally the one that went wrong) isn’t covered by the warranty. Their guarantee seems only to cover those bits of the computer that don’t go wrong. (You can see more about this story on our web site if you’re interested.)

I also don’t trust people and organisations who sell us false hope, waffle and nonsense. For once I’m not going to criticise faith healers, herbal charlatans and crystal-waving New Age loons. This week it’s business consultants.

You may have seen an advertisement for a seminar called Leadership Foundations. At this session you will learn “to implement a system for executing on critical priorities”, “to leverage the talents of peers and co-workers to accomplish unprecedented results” and how to throw away P5,000 in a single day. Impressive eh?

Who is this aimed at? As well as “high potential individual contributors” and “project leaders” they claim it is for “junior to senior managers”. In fact anyone with a heartbeat and P5,000 they don’t want any more.

Save yourself some money and actually do something useful with it. Buy a computer from a reputable store. Train your security guards how to treat customers properly. Better still take your entire team out for an enormous, team-building, “Thanks for being great” party. At least that way you’ll have something to show for it, even if it is just a hangover.

This week’s stars!

  • Irene and Leungo at Stuttafords at Game City for going out of their way to make a customer feel welcome.

Friday, 11 April 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I bought a PC from Micro IT last December just before Christmas. On the invoice it stated that it came with a one year warranty. Everything was OK until recently when it stopped working. I took it back to them and firstly they said they would charge me P100 to return it for repair. They also told me that the problem was with the power supply and that this wasn’t covered by the warranty and I would have to pay for the repair.

Can this be correct? What can I do?

We contacted Micro IT and asked them for a reaction. They told us that it was true that the power supply wasn’t covered by the warranty even though the customer had never been told this. They also told us that the problem with the power supply was the customer’s fault because they had probably had a power cut while using the computer.

This is all absolute rubbish. A supplier can’t just say that something isn’t covered by the warranty unless they have told you this BEFORE you bought the item. Section 17 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations makes this VERY clear. We spoke to the technical team at Hi Performance Systems, a major, citizen owned PC supplier. They told us that this is clearly nonsense and they, as a reputable company, would never exclude the power supply from the warranty. It’s unheard of. As for that bit about power cuts, that’s just silly.

Also charging P100 to return something for repair is totally unacceptable. Micro IT have failed to deliver a product and service of merchantable quality as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations. You are entitled to a completely free repair, no nonsense, no questions asked.

We’ll write to them formally, outlining their obligations under the law. If that doesn’t work, we’ll just send a Voice reporter and photographer round. What could be scarier than that?

Walk the Talk

I sometimes wonder whether we, as a nation, want to achieve anything or whether we would much prefer just to TALK about achieving things.


We seem to have a national obsession with discussing, over and over and over again, everything that we all already know and with sounding terribly important by using excessively long words and sentences when, to put it bluntly, we should just shut up.


Or perhaps even better than just shutting up we could actually, horror of horrors, DO something?


So what got me all hot under the collar this time?




Mmegi reported on 2nd April on a breakfast seminar hosted by BNPC to think about tourism.  Last Friday there was also a full double-spread from BNPC with pretty pictures of the various attendees all “listening attentively”, making presentations and, errr….  having their photos taken.


OK, I must confess I wasn’t there so I have no particular knowledge of the proceedings but I think I can read between the lines based on what was reported.  Talking about “increased and improved service provision in the tourism sector” the attendees recommended that “a standing committee or networking seminar be revived and that a united product development strategy be instituted”.


As well as all the usual blather about partnership, productivity, policies, priorities and potentials, there was this wonderful quote:


“In improving productivity and competitiveness in the industry, leaders in industry should seek to be the best. That calls for study tours or missions, attachments and forms of benchmarking exercises.”


I’m glad I wasn’t there.  I would have lost the will to live.  We need tours, missions, attachments and benchmarking like we need a hole in the head.  We’ve already had tours, missions, attachments and benchmarking.  We’ve had them all and they achieved precisely nothing.


One of the attendees is quoted as saying that “if we are to provide services in the tourism sector, we need to interrogate the manner in which services are delivered to our clients, both current and prospective”.  I think this can be translated to “We need to think about whether we do stuff right”.


Well, we don’t need to think about it, we just need to see it to establish that we AREN’T doing it right. 


Twice in the last month members of our team have been up north on business.  Twice they’ve stayed in what purport to be good hotels.  One in particular is a household name that rests on the banks of the Chobe, one of our national treasures.  There lies the problem.  This particular hotel relies on it’s environment for it’s reputation.  Frankly the service there sucks considering the amount you have to pay. 


Of course the surroundings are utterly magnificent.  The north of Botswana is genuinely up there with the best.  I know, I’ve seen some of the best.  I’ve seen the sun rise and set over the South China Sea.  I’ve seen New York from the air at night.  I’ve swum in lagoons under waterfalls in the tropical jungle.  My breath has been taken away by Italian cities.  Our country is as good as all of this.


So why do we go out of our way to spoil it all by leaving room service plates on the floor outside a hotel room door for 24 hours?  Why do we permit such a hotel to have a restaurant where the steak is either raw or burned to a cinder?


The infuriating thing was that at the same time I had a visitor from overseas who wanted to see some wildlife.  I dropped him just across the South African border at Buffalo Lodge in the Madikwe Reserve.  The service there was awesome.  The visitor is, right now as you read this, probably back home telling all his friends how Botswana was great but if you want to see the natural wonder you have to go to a different country.


No quantity of tours, missions, attachments and benchmarking will change this even a single bit.  What WILL improve the generally poor level of service we give to tourists is action.  Old-fashioned management action.  Here’s this week’s free suggestion to our new President.  Sir, if you want our tourist sector to be the best then draft the managers of every successful restaurant in Gaborone into the BDF.  Post them to head the hotels in the north and let them demonstrate how to satisfy customers.  To compensate them for the loss of liberty let them keep 50% of the increase in profits that the hotels will undoubtedly make.  A month of having Will from Primi Piatti or Lou from the Caravela up there instilling some discipline into the staff will do wonders.


Discipline, that’s what our tourist sector needs.  When I right-click on the word discipline on my screen and ask for synonyms it gives me regulation, order, control, restraint, authority and obedience.  I know these are all old-fashioned, middle-aged concepts but they are exactly what consumers, whether tourists or not, deserve.


By a bizarre coincidence the same word was mentioned in our new President’s inauguration speech.  He’s obviously a very clever guy.


While discussing the public service he said he wanted to “phase out excessive or counter-productive bureaucracy” and that it “must become optimally efficient, transparent, motivated and disciplined”.   He ended by saying “I hope they are all up to the task because those unable to deliver cannot be kept on the team”. 


Maybe fewer breakfast seminars and more discipline would be a good start?


This week’s stars!


  • Constance at the Thapama Hotel in Francistown for going out of her way to be helpful.
  • TT at Creations of Africa for brilliant service.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Amway to be wound up in the UK? Possibly...

From the London Gazette.
Click here for the original.

Date: 8 November 2007 Issue Number: 58506 Page number: 16248

Publication Date: Thursday, 8 November 2007

Notice Code: 2450

Petitions to Wind Up (Companies)

In the High Court of Justice (Chancery Division)

Companies Court No 2651 of 2007

In the Matter of AMWAY (UK) LIMITED

and in the Matter of the Insolvency Act 1986

A Petition to wind up the above-named Company of St Anne’s House, Caldecotte Lake Drive, Caldecotte Business Park, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire MK7 8JU, presented on 11 April 2007 by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, whose address for service is the Treasury Solicitor, One Kemble Street, London WC2B 4TS, will be heard at The Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL, on Monday 19 November 2007 at 1030 hours (or as soon thereafter as the Petition can be heard).

Any person intending to appear on the hearing of the Petition (whether to support or oppose it) must give notice of intention to do so to the Petitioners or their Solicitor in accordance with Rule 4.16 by 1600 hours on 16 November 2007.

The Petitioners’ Solicitor is the Treasury Solicitor, of One Kemble Street, London WC2B 4TS. (Ref LT6/2859A/JAR.)


Monday, 7 April 2008

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

In May I went to Super Power Doors to buy doors for my house. I found the doors that I liked and together they costed P5,700. I paid a deposit of P3000 and was told my doors would arrive in October.

Earlier this month I went back to Super Power Doors to check if the doors have arrived. While I was there I found out they had new doors in stock. The doors were much better than the ones I had chosen but more expensive. I decided not to wait until October and take one of these better doors that they had in stock. The cost of the new door after they gave me a discount was P6,500. I paid them another P3,500 and I was able to take the door.

A few days later I discovered that Builders World had exactly the same door in stock but at a much lower price. After a discount they could offer me the door for less than P5,000.

On realising this, I approached Super Power Doors and asked them to give me the difference between what they and Builders World charge or agree to have me return the door and get back my P6,500.00. They refused. Now I feel cheated because I paid a ridiculously high price for the door.

What should I do?

I’m sorry but what do you expect?

The first store didn’t deceive you, they were totally honest about the price they were charging and you accepted it without any complaint. You entered quite willingly into a contract with Super Power Doors and they have kept to their side of the bargain so why would they want to take the doors back or give you any compensation?

Unfortunately you’ve paid the price for not shopping around. When you are preparing to spend any amount of money, particularly when it’s a large sum, you really must shop around.

Friday, 4 April 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I had car insurance from a particular company since April 2007. It was recently due to be renewed and my broker contacted me and told me that the premium had more than doubled from P3,600 to P7,392. This was even though I did not claim during the previous cover period. When I asked them why it was increasing so much they told me that it was because the rate that they used in the previous year was given to certain brokers as preferential rates. Now that discount isn’t available any more and they have to give me the normal rates.

What can I do? Should I accept this new rate or not?

This is very strange. I can understand how an insurance company would give a broker a preferential rate to help them get business but to give them THAT level of discount is astounding. Can they really afford to give a 50% discount? I think not. I suspect that your broker made a mistake last year and is trying to recover from it this year.

What you must do is simple. Don’t sign any new cover agreement with them until you have shopped around. Talk to other brokers and see if they can come up with another good deal with you. Tell every broker what the others have offered you and see if they can beat it. Only if this fails to get you a decent price should you go back to your original broker and take that deal. If you do go back to them ask them to put in writing why it has gone up so much. Then perhaps talk to the insurance company and see if what you are being told is true because it’s all very suspicious.

The lesson is simple. You have the right to shop around so get on your bike and get to it!

Fly Away with Amway?

When I first started writing this column on customer service (and a million other things) nearly three years ago I sometimes wondered whether there would be enough material to write about. After all how many times can you tell people the staggeringly obvious about how to treat customers?

Well, I forgot about how many time things go wrong, about the companies who are actively trying to deceive us and those who just don’t give a flying whatsit about the law.

Every so often though things happen that just give me material for free.

Three weeks ago I wrote about Multi-Level Marketing, a not-so-distant cousin of pyramid selling schemes. If you didn’t get a chance to read the article then you missed a good one. If only it was available on our web site at If only all you had to do was then click on the Consumer Watchdog link and you would see it immediately. If only.

The article outlined some of the basic principles of Multi-Level Marketing and some of the general perceptions of how it can never really deliver on it’s promises. Some are mathematical, others are practical.

In particular the article mentioned Amway, one of the largest MLM companies in the world who have a multi-billion dollar turnover and who make their money by selling toiletries and household goods. Amway have been in Botswana for a few years and many of us will have had the phone call from one of their many local distributors offering us not only soap and shampoo but the opportunity to make money. The selling point is not just the chance of buying some perfectly ordinary products but of joining the Amway religion and becoming fabulously wealthy. You do this by becoming a distributor yourself and then by recruiting more distributors who will all feed money back through you to your “upline”, the guy who recruited you. Every stage in the pyramid, sorry multi-level structure, takes a cut and if you’re at the top of the monolith you could well make a pot of money. If you’re at the top that is.

Sorry, did I call it a religion? That must have been a mistake but it’s an easy one to make. The level of energy you see from Amway distributors really is like what you would expect at a religious festival. If you visit their South African web site there are many testimonials from some of their successful distributors with quotes like:

“Your upline is your lifeline - edify your upline and submit to counsel.”

“You must be loyal to the Amway Corporation and to your upline team.”

“Enjoy the journey - this is more than a business, it's a way of life.”

Now isn’t all of that just like a religion? I’m not even slightly surprised that some have even described Away as being cult-like.

So anyway, what happened after the previous article?

We got an email. From Amway.

Obviously they’re not happy with the coverage we gave them. In the interests of perfect openness I’ve posted their email on our website so you can read it. I haven’t changed a single word.

To their credit, and I must say this, the email is very polite. Unlike the Holiday Club’s lawyers who suggested we had defamed them and threatened all sorts of actions if we didn’t retract what we had said about them, the MD of Amway in South Africa was almost friendly. Incidentally the letters from the Holiday Club’s lawyers are on our web site as well. Needless to say we retracted nothing and everything went quiet.

The email from Amway was actually more than friendly, it was remarkable. It was generous. According to their MD, they want to “fly your editorial team to Cape Town where our head office is situated to assess our business”. There they’ll show us around, introduce us to their team, allow us to ask questions and “give an honest assessment and feedback to your readers/web visitors”.

A free trip to Cape Town. Damn, that’s tempting. And for our entire “editorial team” as well? I thought for a moment of expanding our team so it included all our partners, children, friends and gardeners but then sanity prevailed.

Much as I’d love a freebie to Cape Town it’s not how we do things. Since we started Consumer Watchdog we haven’t taken a single thebe for ourselves from any suppliers. Yes, we accept prizes and treats that we give away to service stars and sometimes the people who nominate them but never a single thing for us. However, as I’ve stated before, I WOULD make an exception if I was offered a Jaguar or one of the new Apple MacBooks. Hint, hint…

So we’ll decline the trip to CT but we WILL continue to offer Amway our normal unrestricted right of reply. Perhaps they can reply to the evidence entered in court records in the UK last year (and reported by The Times) which reported that 71% of British Amway distributors didn’t make a penny. 101 people between them took 75% of all the bonuses that were paid out. A certain Trevor Lowe was the highest earner and he made a magnificent £116,000 (which is well over P1 million) but it did take him 26 years to get to that level. Only 37 people in the entire UK made as much from Amway as the national average wage.

This was evidence submitted to the Companies Court by a UK Government Regulator that is trying to have Amway wound up in the public interest.

So, shame about the Cape Town trip, but there’s still hope for the Apple MacBook isn’t there?

This week’s stars!

  • Angela at BTC Accounts Department for “seeing the big picture”.
  • Shula, also from BTC, for being “really helpful”.
  • All the team at Musica at Game City for being really good at what they do.