AS consumer advocates, the Guyana Consumers Association (GCA) receives two or three complaints per month from persons who had purchased consumer durables such as refrigerators, washing machines, toasters, electric irons. blenders and so on. Most of these purchases had become non-functional in less than six months and almost all purchases were made at the small downtown shops in Georgetown. The majority of these shops are owned by Chinese nationals.
Most of these consumer durables tend to suffer from manufacturer faults or some difficulty with the electricals. A majority of these faulty goods tend to be refrigerators, freezers and washing machines. The smaller shops in downtown Georgetown tend to offer their consumer durables at cheaper prices than the established stores with warranties of one to three months or even no warranties at all, though the Consumer Protection Act stipulates that if no warranty is given by the seller, a six-month warranty immediately kicks in.
To circumvent the Act, sellers give a month’s warranty. Many of the goods sold are suspected of being older models or even second-hand. Sometimes they do not add VAT and if the purchaser questions this, they offer another small discount but no bills or receipts are given.
Most of these consumers who make complaints to the GCA tend to be from the countryside or the poorer sections of Georgetown and have little knowledge of their rights. Accordingly, when they see a washing machine or refrigerator offered at several thousand dollars cheaper than prices at the established stores, they are attracted to purchase, oblivious to the absence of after-purchase service facilities. spare parts availability or fair warranties or guarantees. On the other hand, a few willingly take this gamble.
We will illustrate the dilemma facing consumers purchasing consumer durables by giving two actual examples from the files of the Guyana Consumers Association:-
About six months ago, a person who lives in Linden purchased a small washing machine from a store in America Street, Georgetown. The price was just over three thousand dollars cheaper than prices in the established stores. In the first week after purchase, the purchaser found that the machine was malfunctioning and he complained to the seller. He was told to return the machine to the store but that he would not have it again for another week. The purchaser did manage to return the machine but received it only near to the end of the month’s warranty. The machine continued to malfunction and on complaining again to the seller, he was told that his warranty had expired and that he would now have to pay for repairs or hire his own technician.
When the GCA intervened the seller politely told them that the warranty had expired and the consumer had now to pay for his repairs. The GCA pointed out to him that he was attempting to circumvent the Competition and Consumer Protection Act and that he was responsible for providing transportation for the machine and to ensure that it was working properly. It was only when the seller had realised that the GCA could take legal action under the Competition and Consumer Protection Act and would have had the support of the Consumer Protection Commission and the Consumer Section of the Ministry of Business that he gave the consumer his rights. Buying consumer durables from the small shops despite their cheaper prices than those of the established stores such as Singers, Courts, Kissoons and others, is somewhat of a risk.
We will now give you the other contrasting example. We use a purchase from Singers since the purchaser’s documentation is available but we are confident that Courts, Kissoons and other established stores equally offer the same accommodation as Singers:
The purchaser went shopping for a refrigerator. He first visited several of the smaller stores who were offering the type of refrigerator he wished to buy at five to six thousands dollars cheaper than at Singers or the other established stores. The store clerks were not very accommodating and they would not offer a warranty for more than six months. None of these had a repair shop or even a permanent repair technician. They would not readily offer transportation facilities and could not indicate how long a machine would be kept if sent for repair.
At Singers, Water Street, Georgetown, the purchaser reported that the store clerks were helpful and courteous and that after he had chosen his refrigerator, he was guided to the Accounts who offered him the hire-purchase or cash option, explaining the conditions attached to both and patiently answering all questions. He made a cash purchase and was issued with a proper receipt containing the terms of the warranty and was told when it would be delivered to his home.
Unfortunately, the manual was in Spanish and the store did not have an English one at hand but promised to send the purchaser the English version as soon as one had arrived. Since the purchaser had decided to install the machine strictly according to the manual instructions, Singers extended his warranty for an extra month. The Singer warranty for fridges is one year on the body and three years for the motor.
After a week of usage, the gasket rubber along the door of the freezer compartment fell out. The repair section courteously and patiently received the complaint and had a technician visit the home the next morning and fix the fault. This was of course done within the warranty without charge.
Two years went by and the refrigerator had stopped working but the consumer could not get in contact with Singers immediately because of the COVID19 lockdown and the fact that the
The company only opened its doors twice per week at shortened hours. The consumer was eventually able to contact the company and lodge his complaint. He admitted that he was very irritable because his fridge had been out of commission for nearly a month and he had lost some perishables but the staff had remained unfailingly tolerant and polite. The fridge was duly picked up, taken to the workshop and returned in working order. Since the warranty was in force, no charges were made. The consumer was high in his praise of the businesslike approach and courtesy of the Singer management and staff. He strongly felt it was more economical and secure to buy consumer durables from the established stores where one could be certain of the quality, after-purchase service and fair warranties which are faithfully honoured.