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Price advice and protecting your possessions: Wendy Knowler’s 'watch-outs of the week'

18 February 2022 - 15:06
Mistakes don’t get more obvious than R0.00. Stock photo.
Mistakes don’t get more obvious than R0.00. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/LIGHTWISE

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

Never leave your car with a third party without doing this first

Jean M tagged me in a distress tweet this week: “I just booked my car at (a big brand dealership) and, after collecting it, I realised they had damaged my car.

“I took it back about 45 minutes later and they claim I left without inspecting it, so they are not liable. What can I do please?”

So that’s the first lesson: always inspect your car properly when collecting it from any company which has had possession of it.

But even if Jean had spotted the damage before leaving the dealership, if she hadn’t been made to sign an inspection sheet noting all existing scratches and dents before handing over her keys, she’d have had no proof that the damage wasn’t pre-existing.

If the company doesn’t have an inspection form, make your own notes of the car’s condition, and/or take photos of the car, so that you have your own evidence if, at collection time, the company tries to deny responsibility for damage caused on their watch.

The same principle applies when hiring a car or moving into a rented property.

It’s really important to make sure you have the evidence to prove that any damage was not of your making.

Know this when comparing prices online

Jorge thought we should know that the prices a major national retailer was advertising on its site were all VAT-exclusive.

“I spent hours Googling the product I needed to buy, found this company to be the cheapest and decided to buy it from them,” he wrote. “It took a while, as I first had to register and then the site went down for maintenance, but eventually I got there — only to find that all the prices on the site were excluding VAT and I had to pay almost R1,000 more than anticipated.

“Given the schlep I'd already been through and the urgency of the situation, I just paid.”

And that’s what the companies who advertise VAT-exclusive prices on their sites are hoping will happen: while some of their customers may be annoyed, they will buy anyway.

Section 65 of the VAT Act requires that all prices advertised or quoted must include VAT, or alternatively, that adverts reflect the VAT cost, both the VAT-exclusive price and the VAT-inclusive price. Where an ad reflects both prices, both prices must be displayed “with equal prominence and impact”.

But many online retailers go with misleading VAT exclusive prices on their websites, the VAT only being added just before payment.

When I confronted the owner of one such site advertising digital products some time ago, he defended the practice of displaying VAT-exclusive prices by saying he had to because most of his competitors did so, and he didn’t want his prices to seem uncompetitive in comparison.

As it turns out, the retailer in Jorge’s case wasn’t guilty as charged.

“My bad,” Jorge said, “I must have gotten confused with the screen reader.”

But it’s definitely something to look out for when shopping online.

The price you see is not always what you’re entitled to pay

Many consumers have total belief in the fact that even if a price on an item they want to buy is a mistake, they’re entitled to it at that “wrong” price. But that’s not necessarily the case.

The Consumer Protection Act gives retailers an “out” on this score — if the advertised or marked price is an “obvious mistake” and they quickly remedy that, they are not obliged to honour that wrong price.

Dave isn’t the first person to think they’re entitled to benefit from an obviously too-low price, or even a no-price — as in R0.00.

“I recently made a purchase on the website of Gold City Mint,” he said. They advertised one product as R0.00 — reduced from R219,500.

“I ordered that, plus another item advertised as R505; they sent me a tax invoice and after all this, they have withdrawn the sale.

“Can I ask your advice?”

When I gave it to him, pointing out that mistakes don’t get more obvious than R0.00, he came back with: “But I made a payment (for the other item) and they sent me a tax invoice.”

I guess it takes time to get over losing a gift worth almost R220,000.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer

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