How to become smart and savvy consumer in 2011

15/09/2011 12:21

In 2010, the Consumer Council received 2,250 complaints worth more than $2.2million. Out of this we were able to resolve 1,348 or over 50% of the complaints and saved consumers almost $1m. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Every year consumers in Fiji lose millions of dollars through unfair trading practices.  Consumers could easily save this money and more by being smart, conscious of their purchases and being knowledgeable on their consumer rights if transactions go wrong.

To become a smart consumer is to make certain that you receive value for money. That is, every dollar earned and spent is utilized to maximum benefit, and disbursed on purchases of quality and usefulness.

I can give you many examples from our every day work at the Council where consumers could have saved their hard earned money by being more alert and smart. Some of these are:

Having landlord/tenancy agreements and receipts for rent paid- Landlord and tenancy tops the list of Council’s top 10 re-occurring complaints. In 2010, we received 220 complaints on landlord and tenancy. The most common problem is that majority of the landlords and tenants do not have an agreement on their lease and as such lose out money if one party decides to ignore verbal agreements. The latest case is that of a consumer renting a flat in Nasinu for a year. Frustrated with his landlord for not maintaining the flat he decided to vacate the flat. There was no agreement between the parties and the landlord did not issue receipts for rent and bond paid. According to the tenant, the landlord had always evaded giving receipts with excuses that he will buy a receipt book in the next two days and then issue the tenant his copies. After vacating the flat, the tenant requested refund of his $180 bond but the landlord denied payment alleging that the tenant had not paid bond. Without receipts, it is difficult for the tenant to prove his case and get his bond money refunded. Landlords and tenants can safeguard their interests and save money if they enter into a tenancy agreement clearly defining terms and conditions of their lease.  A sample copy of the tenancy agreement can be accessed on Consumer Council’s website www.consumersfiji.org.  Tenants should also demand receipts for all rent payments.  If it is not issued then they should lodge complaint with the Council.

Checking utility bills- Majority of the consumers pay one or more utility bills but how many of us actually scrutinize our bills when we receive it. Many of you may not have realized it but you may be losing money by paying for calls not made or for unused water and electricity. The Council is inundated with complaints from consumers against utility companies in Fiji for wrongful charges. For example, residential consumers in Labasa were charged commercial rate for electricity use. Consumers’ laxity in not examining their bills or asking for their monthly bills resulted in sudden demands for huge payments. A few minutes spent on checking bills can save consumers some dollars and also from being suddenly stacked with exorbitant bills.

Reading fine lines in your warranties – Hire purchase (HP) is the most common means of purchasing on credit for many consumers in Fiji. However, our experience shows that in their haste to buy goods, many consumers forget to read the fine lines of their warranties and contracts and as a result lose money. Consumers should not let the HP company to lump more than one item into single contract. Consumers lose the flexibility of clearing one or two items within “no interest” period or end up losing all the items if they are unable to pay. Consumers should read the terms and conditions of the contracts they are signing and if you don’t understand ask the salesperson to answer your questions.

Watch out for misleading advertisements- Advertising can be a great source of information but it can also be used to mislead the unsuspecting consumers. Alarm bells should ring when consumers see advertisements with statements “2pc Tandoori chicken with chips $4.95- Large pizza, 2 ltr Coke FREE!” It may sound ridiculous but most consumers do get caught in such false advertisements and lose their money. Consumers have the legal right to receive accurate information about products or services they want to purchase without being tricked or mislead. It is illegal for a trader to make false or misleading statements about the price, quality, nature or purpose of any goods or services.

Check those dates- Buying expired products is one of the most common pitfalls while grocery shopping.  If an expensive product is suddenly sold at a ridiculously cheap price, consumers should find out why?  Spending a few seconds in checking the use-by dates of products can save many consumers a lot of money. Many consumers chuck the expired products in the bin without a refund or compensation because to seek refund means time and transport costs. Most common problem the Council handles in the office is weevils in flour and sharp. I encourage consumers to open the packet in the shop or supermarket after their purchase to check the product. If there are weevils consumers should get a replacement or refund there and then. It is also the responsibility of the supermarkets and shops to check the products before putting them on the shelves.

 Beware of fraudulent sale- Many consumers in Fiji get swindled into buying cheaper quality products at high or premium prices which are not reflective of the quality. Lately, the Council received a complaint from a consumer who was sold cheap tile tombstone at a higher price equivalent to higher quality headstone. This is because the consumer had very little knowledge on the types of tombstones available in the market and relied heavily on the sales assistant for assistance. As a result, this consumer could have lost $300 if the Council had not intervened.  As smart consumers, you need to research the products you are buying and this can be done through friends, internet and consumer reviews.

Don’t get fooled by “No Refund” signs- It is a common practice in Fiji for most traders to put signs stating “Goods once sold will not be refunded”.  These statements are to give impression that consumers have no right to a refund when their statutory rights say otherwise. If you see any signs such as these, either displayed in stores or on store receipts, you should report to the Council or the Fiji Commerce Commission.

Today’s consumers are faced with strong competition among traders, a wide range of products and services to choose from and readily available credit. Smart and informed consumers know how to shop around, how to compare prices and quality, how to use credit wisely, what after-sales service to expect and what a product warranty covers.

If things do go wrong, consumers can always lodge their complaints at the Consumer Council.

You would be surprised how fast little savings by smart consumers could add up to become great savings.