By Pat Dial
Our column to-day will review the main consumer pitfalls in buying and selling transactions and will also briefly touch on consumers dealings with the Public Utilities. From time to time we will carry other articles educating consumers of their rights.
A consumer is generally defined as a person who purchases goods and services for his/her personal or household use. Purchasing goods and services is not always a straight forward matter and consumers must exercise vigilance when entering into such transactions. When a person goes to a shop or supermarket to purchase a good, he/she must look for the price. Sellers by Law are bound to tag their goods with prices. The next thing he/she does is to ascertain the contents of the goods he/she is purchasing. Such would include reading the labels and examining the goods.
For example, there was some Brazilian-made oil on the market where the name “Olive Oil” was prominent on its colourful label and in much smaller type was “Soya Oil.” The product was 20% olive oil and 80% soya, but a purchaser who did not read the label carefully could have been misled into thinking that he/she is purchasing “olive oil” at a bargain price. Or buying toilet soaps – most of them appear to be of the same size with some of them cheaper. If one examines the weight of the soap on the label, the cheaper ones are always of less weight than the dearer.
One must look for the expiry dates on all the products purchased, especially foodstuffs. The expiry date is there to tell the consumer up to what time a foodstuff is safe and wholesome. This is especially true of canned or potted goods. Sometimes in the supermarkets one may see a product exposed at a knock-down price but when the expiry date is checked, it is only good for two days. Most important is to ascertain the expiry date of drugs for some begin to be toxic shortly after the expiry date.
Another important thing to check on is the brand and origin of the goods being purchased. Since Guyana is a free market, numerous sub-standard goods and goods with forged well-trusted brand names are imported into the country. Sometimes such goods are smuggled in from neighbouring countries. For example, milk or fruit or jams imported from a desert country which has no large diary or fruit farms are bound to be questionable. Recently, the Food and Drugs Department disallowed some sub-standard milk products originating in such countries from entering Guyana. Forged Western products with trusted brand names are flooding Third World countries including Guyana from East Asia. Such goods with forged brand names range from haberdashery, foodstuffs, hardware and consumer durables like toasters and microwaves. In buying such goods, it is always wise to ascertain country of origin.
In buying any kind of goods, consumers must always acquaint themselves how to use them properly and safely. For example, in buying an electronic product or an electrical tool or medicines, one must read and follow the directions for use. Knowledge of the directions for use will allow for the product to be used with greater efficiency and in safety.
In buying any goods, it is important to get a receipt or bill from the seller. The bill should have the name of the shop or seller, the description of the goods and services purchased, the prices of the various goods purchased and the date of the purchase. The bill must be clear and readable and should be done in inks that do not fade or disappear in under a year.
The securing of a bill by the purchaser is of great importance. It ascertains that the purchaser owns the good or goods as against others who may try to claim them. The Police accept bills as proof of ownership and the purchaser, for instance, avoids difficulties in Police searches. A utility receipt could avoid one’s electricity, water or telephone being disconnected; the presentation of a receipt has saved many a consumer from the discomfort of having his/her services disconnected.
If one wishes to return a good to the seller because of some defect, he/she could only do so on the presentation of a proper bill. The seller would not make a refund, or exchange a good or even repair it except a bill is produced. Many East Asian shops do not give purchase receipts except one asks for them and some sellers may tell purchasers they will get a cheaper price if they forego the issuance of a bill because they would not have to pay Vat. To forego one’s bill is a great risk and consumers are advised to always collect their bills. Future articles will deal with consumers and purchasers’ other rights such as warranties and correct weights and measures.