Consumer issues and an answered call

This article appeared originally in Gulf News: link to original article

CON152953 — this is not my account number somewhere in the world. This is in fact the Consumer Protection complaint number.

For those who do not know, the Consumer Protection Department is under the Ministry of Economy which is why it caught my attention. The complaint number mentioned at the top involves a luxury/sports car in which interior buttons started melting after being driven around for 55,000 kilometres over a period of five years.

The car was sold with a three-year warranty, commonly known to cover the engine and gear. For instance, if you enjoy speeding between radars and hence apply brakes every now and then, the warranty cannot in any way cover brake pads as this is misuse. It’s totally understandable then that the warranty does not cover such consumable materials.

My question here is; how can the button used to open the fuel tank melt, literally, and is not covered under the warranty? The driver currently sticks a key in to be able to press it and open the fuel tank lid, for those of you wondering. What I don’t understand is how can these things be allowed? And how can the Consumer Protection Department, or even the Ministry of Economy, allow such things to go unpunished? It’s not all about making sure a kilo of tomatoes doesn’t exceed a certain price.

Another example is from a mobile phone retailer that you can find everywhere that I will call for the sake of this article Company X. You can sometimes actually find two shops under two names belonging to the same mother company, referred to here as “pure competition within a one company’s market”.

The case hereby involves Blackberry headsets for which you get a six-month warranty. After one or two months, the typical lifespan, you will pass by the shop to replace that headset. If the sales people by any chance could, they would examine the old headset through a microscope. They query whether the wires dangle out of the headset or if the headset is as purchased.

Not only that, if you buy the product from any other outlet, let’s say a petrol stations, you have to exchange it at that same outlet. Why is that allowed when it’s all under Company X’s warranty? Let me add to the irony of the entire scene.

A shop that belongs to Company X was closed in a Gulf city a few months back after the Ministry of Commerce in the country received multiple complaints involving Company X. These included promoting false offers and failure to replace products under warranty.

My final case here is that of insurance companies. If you took the time to read one of their lengthy contracts, there is no specification whatsoever on how many accidents you are allowed to get into before the insurance of your car is cancelled. Some of you might have never experienced this, but for those who did, there is no term in the contract to cancel the insurance after getting into three accidents.

I do understand insurance companies’ frustration with their business model. However, that frustration shouldn’t be passed to the consumer. As a matter of fact, there should be no margin allowed for these companies or any others to misuse consumers’ trust. Because of the ambiguity herewith, some insurance companies would impose a cancellation of insurance even fewer than three accidents. Some might go as far as counting accidents that you did not cause, because they can.

I tried calling the Consumer Protection Department before writing this article in order to inquire about the first case. The phone kept ringing. And now I am eager to know how unethical practices are being monitored, addressed, fixed or eliminated.

I think answering the phone would be good for starters. The Consumer Protection Department should be active in tracking down undesirable activities and eliminating them until companies get the message that they are not allowed to — not just not supposed to — cheat ignorant customers. This entails having an effective team not only to follow up complaints and allegations, but one that takes the initiative to scope out what the Ministry of Economy condemns in its press releases as suppliers’ wrongdoing.

Note: I tried calling the Consumer Protection Department before sending this piece, and the phone just kept ringing. I wonder how the person who placed the complaint could get through in the first place. Now the last thought that I want to leave you with is this — who’s going to stop the unhealthy speculation that has already started in the market?

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