Too many arrogant twits
Why, oh why is it still so hard for some companies to deliver on one of the Consumer Protection Act's most simple and powerful provisions?
It's this: If something a customer buys proves to be defective within six months, they get to return it for their choice of a refund, replacement or repair. Not hard.
Yes, the company can choose to first send it for technical assessment to rule out user abuse, but no longer can it insist that a product found to be defective must be repaired.
Or say: "Sorry, you've missed our seven-day returns cut-off." But many continue to do so, routinely.
Here's the thing: It doesn't matter what internal returns policy a company chooses to adopt - the CPA is king and it overrules any misguided company policy.
Here's a classic example of how consumers are being denied their basic CPA rights.
Ines Ferreira bought a Vodacom Smart Grande cellphone on promotion from CNA in Eastgate on December 13, which included R300 of airtime.
CNA is a division of the Edcon group.
Ferreira charged the phone for 48 hours, as instructed by the salesman, but from the start it proved to be useless at holding its battery charge for more than half a day, despite being barely used, as Ferreira had yet to transfer her contacts from her old phone.
Two days before Christmas - by which time she'd had the phone for 10 days - Ferreira returned it to the CNA in Eastgate, and was told it would have to be booked in for repair.
When she protested, saying she would prefer a new phone or her money back, she was pointed to the Cellphone Customer Pick-Up Document she had signed, saying that faulty phones would only be exchanged, not refunded, and provided they were returned within the seven-day "Out of Box Failure" period.
Some retailers will replace or refund a faulty item immediately within seven days, and thereafter insist on sending it off for technical assessment first, which is fine.
But insisting on a repair as the only recourse for a defective product, from day eight after purchase, is a blatant contravention of the CPA.
Consumers have a whole six months in which to return a defective product, for their choice of refund, replacement or repair. And Ferreira knew it, so she asked to speak to someone higher-up, and that's when things got a lot worse.
She alleges a manager pointed out that she had chosen to sign the Customer Pick-up Document instead of challenging it, making her bound by its terms.
"He was extremely arrogant and not in the least bit helpful, or even vaguely remorseful, about the fact that I had purchased a defective phone," she said.
"He went as far as to challenge me to 'take on Edcon and see where that gets you'."
I took up her case with Edcon and shortly afterwards Ferreira received an apology and was told to return the defective phone for a refund.
Edcon's group media relations manager, Vuyo Mtawa, said the group's returns policy on defective merchandise was "very clear" - customers have six months in which to return defective goods, provided they have proof of purchase.
"To ensure this does not happen again, the cellular team is in contact with all the employees involved to re-educate them on our returns policy," he said.
Edcon promises improved service
Last month a Durban woman, who asked not to be named, wrote to relate a series of "displeasing" experiences she had in various Edcon stores.
She claimed staff were generally badly trained, had a "don't care" attitude and were "ridiculously slow".
Her worst experience was when she spent two hours at the Jet store in Chatsworth, attempting to activate her "pre-approved" account.
"The consultant was very confused and kept repeating the same questions. Then, an hour-and-a-half later, I was told I needed a certified copy of my ID. Why tell me only then? And why not when I called the store beforehand to find out exactly what documentation they required?"
She complied, but then came the final straw.
"They told me they still couldn't activate my account because the store was out of cards. I lost patience then and they very quickly found a card and activated my account."
Edcon's group media relations manager, Vuyo Mtawa, said operating teams would be taking up her concerns with the stores she mentioned.
"Edcon is rolling out a customer-centric strategic realignment of the business, which will see us improving not only the service in all our stores but also the overall customer experience," Mtawa said.
At an Edcon media briefing in December group CEO Bernie Brookes acknowledged that customer service needed to be improved and committed the group to doing just that.