Retailers fail compliance test

01 August 2011 - 02:29 By CHANDRÉ PRINCE
Ackermans. File picture
Ackermans. File picture
Image: Tebogo Letsie

Unsuspecting consumers have been short-changed by some of the major retailers for years - but all that is about to change.

A recent investigation by the newly established office of national consumer commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala has found that the big chain stores are among the retailers breaking the consumer-protection laws.

Investigators from Mohlala's office inspected several retailers last month to assess compliance with legislation.

They found that all were guilty of contraventions of the newly enacted Consumer Protection Act.

Mohlala said that though most of the inspections were at upmarket malls in Pretoria and Centurion, the findings were indicative of greater violations in rural areas where consumers were less informed about their rights.

"We want consumers to be conscious of their rights. They have the might of the law on their side," said Mohlala, referring to the act, which came into effect in April.

The investigation found that:

  • Makro, in Wonderboom, had not properly priced some goods, including foods, medications, detergents and pesticides;
  • Checkers Hyper, in Menlyn Park, had failed to properly price some of its merchandise;
  • Game, in Centurion Mall, had not properly priced some of its electrical appliances; and
  • Ackermans, in Menlyn Park, did not price its entire range of sweets and chocolates correctly.

It also found that Skechers, Rage, Pumpkin Patch South Africa and JFK - all shops in Menlyn Park - either had a no-refund policy or a limited-exchange policy.

At Pumpkin Patch, consumers were charged a 5% shrinkage fee immediately when purchased goods were taken out of the store.

Hi-Fi Corporation, at Centurion Mall, had a no-refund policy; instead, it gave consumers 14 days in which to exchange goods, provided they were in their original condition and packaging.

The new act states that all prices must be adequately displayed. It also gives consumers a six-month implied warranty, enabling them to return unsafe or defective goods.

"The consumer has a choice to determine whether they want the goods to be repaired, replaced or refunded at the price paid for them. An outright no-refund policy is against the law," said Mohlala.

André Nieuwoudt, sales manager of Game in Centurion, said the company's head office was considering its policies and would work with the commission to remedy the situation.

A Checkers Hyper, a spokesman said Menlyn Park divisional manager Vick Schoeler would meet Mohlala to discuss her findings.

"We are all for the consumer and would want to iron out these issues with the commissioner's office."

Mohlala wrote to the transgressors on July 19 to advise them to rectify the issues raised within 14 to 30 days.

She asked for meetings at which compliance with the act could be discussed.

Failure to adhere to the act can result in an administrative penalty equal to 10% of a retailer's annual turnover or R1-million, whichever is the greater.

  • Mohlala said her office was investigating the extent of the harm caused by hormones in food products such as frozen chickens, fruit and vegetables.

An investigation into the practices of medical aid schemes in relation to their members was at an advanced stage, she said.