Saturday, 23 January 2016

More rules for 2016

Last week I shared some of the “new rules for 2016” that members of our Facebook group had proposed. These were meant to be the rules that any company wanting to operate in 2016 should abide by if they want to succeed.

The list began with the rule that all coffee shops must offer free, reasonably fast, uncapped WiFi. Really, in 2016 that should be the norm, frankly it’s outdated for any such pace not to offer it. It’s also outdated and bad business sense to force customer to have a different password every day or to limit how much they can download. It’s 2016, it’s fundamental.

Our members also wanted a national ban on the phrase “the system is down” particularly from government departments and parastatals. I agree. The time has come, particularly in a country that’s experiencing a power crisis for companies that rely on technology and networks to offer services not to invest in uninterruptible power supplies for their systems. And their networks. We have a power crisis so businesses have a choice. They can be moaning cry-babies or they can make a plan and spend some money insuring availability of your systems. Come on, it’s 2016.

Then there were two suggestions about shopping centers. Firstly, regardless of the national water shortage, the toilets in shopping centers must be open and working. Again it’ll cost some money but I think we have a right to expect the centers to invest in storage tanks even if they just use grey water to flush the toilets. It’s unhygienic and very bad customer service not to offer toilet facilities.

They also need to start actively policing their car parks to prevent the onslaught of able-bodied scumbags who insist on bribing security guards to allow them to park in the disabled bays. In 2016 this has to stop. Are we a caring and compassionate nation? Really? Then we need to demonstrate that.

Perhaps the most newsworthy suggestion was that “In 2016 consumers must expect supermarkets to adopt a code that says that, the price at the shelf is what the consumer pays.” Luckily the Consumer Protection Regulations already give us that protection, even though some stores often seem to overlook it.

Section 13 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations forbids "the advertisement or representation of a commodity or service [...] with the intent not to dispose of the commodity or service as advertised or represented". If it’s advertised for sale for a price expressed in Rand, then we’re entitled to pay that. What’s more, remember that the Ministry of Trade and Industry said just before Christmas that they’d noticed that “some businesses, especially chain-stores, are displaying their merchandise in other currencies especially the Rand, instead of Pula”. They went on to say that:
“This is (an) unfair trade practice whereby the Pula/ Rand exchange rate differential is not passed onto the consumer. Therefore businesses that are practicing this are advised to stop forthwith and failure to do so may result in their trade licenses being reviewed, which may lead to their suspension or cancellation” and advised the public “not to accept paying for merchandise that is priced in the Rand or any foreign currency other than the Pula.”
Another member of the group repeated a common complaint we see about banks, saying “consumers must expect better service in banks including provision of rest rooms (toilets)”.

Every time we’ve asked banks about this they’ve responded with the same story. It’s about security. Their fear is that if they offered toilets inside the bank a criminal could use them to change clothing, put on a mask or pick up a weapon hidden by a previous visitor and then rob the bank. All of those concerns are reasonable but surely there are ways to offer customers what they want but still maintain the high level of security needed in a bank? What about a portable toilet outside the branch? What about restrooms in the reception area before the security checkpoint? What about being creative rather than just saying No? In 2016 I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

Several members of our Facebook group made suggestions that weren’t critical of the companies serving us, but were critical of consumers instead.

One said “consumers are expected to read the fine print on contracts”. I can’t agree more strongly.

We hear all the time from consumers who got into trouble because they didn’t read and understand the agreements they signed. Most times it’s a hire purchase agreement but it’s also common with insurance schemes. They sign the agreement often without reading it at all or, just as dangerously, without making sure they understand every single part of the agreement. That’s at least part of the reason they later get into trouble when things go wrong.

If they’d read the agreement they might have seen the clause that tells them that until they’ve paid the final instalment the goods are still the property of the store and the store is therefore entitled to visit their house at any time if they fall behind with their repayments and repossess the goods. No court order, no deputy sheriff, no formalities, just some guys in a bakkie.

Better still, I’d hope that anyone reading the agreement would think twice before signing and instead would run away screaming, thanking themselves for taking the time to realise before signing it that it was likely to ruin them financially.

What are your new rules for 2016? What do you want stores (and consumers) to do differently this year? It should be more than just smiling and greeting us, what tangible things should a store do that would encourage you to hand over your money? Join our Facebook group and share your ideas with the thousands of other people ahead of you.

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