When the price is too nice: Careful — what you see is not always what you get
Can you demand that a store gives you a product at the advertised or displayed price?
Sadly, that has to be a "yes and no" answer.
That "price you see is the price you pay" line was devised and advertised by the government many years ago when value-added tax was first introduced.
By law, retailers had to advertise VAT-inclusive prices - and still do. So that line was intended to impress on consumers that no retailer could add tax to an advertised price.
It wasn't meant to give consumers the impression that if a retailer had made a genuine and obvious mistake with a price, they would have to honour it and sell the item to them at that "wrong" price. But many consumers assume this to be the case.
The Consumer Protection Act gives retailers an "out" if the price was an "obvious" mistake. It states: "If a price as displayed contains an inadvertent and obvious error, the supplier is not bound by it - after correcting the error in the displayed price and taking reasonable steps in the circumstances to inform consumers to whom the erroneous price may have been displayed, of the error and the correct price."
Imtiaz Mansoor saw a pair of shoes marked at R62 at a sportswear store in the Gateway mall, Umhlanga, two weeks ago, but when he went to pay for them, the cashier called her manager and then refused to sell them to him at that price.
I dare say few would argue that a branded sport shoe with a price tag of just R62 was not an "obvious" mistake.
Not so in Gisela Edwards' case.
"I have just walked out of Zara's Sandton City store [in Johannesburg] hopping mad!" she told In Your Corner on March 29.
"I found a lovely pair of black trousers with a tag marked R479 - the last pair in my size.
"When I got to the teller, she told me the price was not correct - the pants were marked R629 on the system," said Edwards.
"The manager came over and said the teller was correct - the price was not R479, he said, even though the tag was properly attached to those pants and read R479."
I took up her case with Zara's customer service team, pointing out that a R479 price range on a pair of pants couldn't be regarded as an obvious mistake.
Responding, the company said there were no "general rules" on what constituted an obvious error. But since the Consumer Protection Act stated that if there was a pricing mistake, the lower price should be honoured, Edwards would be invited to return to the store where she could buy the pants in question for R479.
"We have clarified pricing errors with managers in the Sandton store, who will take the necessary measures to avoid similar situations in the future," Zara SA said.
Edwards has since returned to the store and bought the pants at the lower price, commending one of the managers, Siphiwe Sophazi, for his help. "He was most professional and just very pleasant to deal with," she said.
WHAT YOU GONNA PAY?
The National Consumer Commission is to launch a price display awareness campaign ahead of this year’s festive season. It will run with the tag line “Pay the price you see. See the price to pay.”
“The messages that we want to communicate are that prices should be displayed, prices should be visible, and they should be in the currency of South Africa,” commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed was quoted as saying in the NCC’s latest newsletter.
Take note all those biltong sellers who don’t put prices on their displays.
I anticipate that “Pay the price you see” will entrench the confusion, given that consumers don’t always have the legal right to pay the price they see.
Ebrahim also slammed the retail sector’s introduction of multiple-currency display prices —pounds, Australian dollars, US dollars and rand prices displayed on the same tag — as having “a potential to confuse a vulnerable consumer”.
WRONG CAN FEEL SO RIGHT
What if you get to a supermarket till and your chosen jar of coffee scans at a higher price than was displayed on the shelf label?
The store is legally obliged to honour the shelf price.
But two retailers have gone a step further with policies that compensate customers when the shelf price and the till price aren't the same.
In Woolworths, if a product does not scan correctly at the till - for example if a promotional price does not reflect on the till reading - the customer gets the product free, and any other items of the same product at the lower price.
If that happens to you at Pick n Pay, the customer gets double the difference between the right price and the wrong one.