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Safe shopping during the holiday season

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A woman shopping in a supermarket. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The year’s Christmas season is here with us again and at the time of reading this column chances are that you have already closed for the festivities. For some people Christmas is the time to make merry and indulge while for others it’s a time of reflection and doing good.

Whatever Christmas means to you, one undeniable fact is that Christmas has been commercialised by vendors. This is the time when suppliers in some industries for example the hospitality industry make the most sales.

It could be due to the fact that some consumers indulge in impulse and emotional buying. This is the season consumers spend the most. This started on 23rd November the so called Black Friday. “Christmas sales and discounts “can be quite tempting even to the most frugal person.

However just because it is Christmas does not mean throwing caution to the wind, I have highlighted some few tips that may assist the public when doing their end of year shopping.

Do not trust that advertisement entirely It is common knowledge that some aspects of advertising prey on the consumer’s emotions in a bid to subtly convince them to make a purchase.

Perhaps there is a promise of a discount, or there are representations as to the quality of the product/service, or that consuming the product/service will elevate your social class.

Whatever message is communicated in the advertisement, is called a representation. Representations may be true and accurate or may be false and misleading.

Watch out for false representations in advertisements. As a consumer it is your responsibility to undertake a due diligence where possible, before making the purchase. You need to ascertain the representations of the vendor before purchasing.

Make sure that what you pay for is actually what you ordered for. Consumer Laws protect customers against false representations and the redress against a false representation, is that the consumer can opt out of the entire deal.

I would like to use a common example that many have encountered. You book a holiday through a hotel’s website based on the pictures of the facility and promised amenities such as the swimming pool, spa and others.

On reaching the destination you find that it is a far cry from what you paid for. You find that there is in fact no swimming pool and the hotel rooms are not the air conditioned cabins that you ordered for. Many hotels would dismiss you with “Payment is non-refundable.”

However in my view, the Consumer Law Section 12 is on your side as it deems such misrepresentations to be unfair trade practices. The remedy for an unfair trade practice is rescinding the agreement that is, you are under no obligation to consume the service offered.

Use written contracts if possible before making purchases, draft simple consumer agreements setting out the desired quality, quantity, and price, time of delivery and terms of delivery.

This will greatly protect you in the event the vendor doesn’t deliver as per expectations. Furthermore, such a contract will ensure that your purchase is not only secured by consumer law but also by contract and sale of goods laws.

Be cautious when doing internet purchases. It is prudent to exercise caution when buying online as the cyber world is a murky systme where legal redress may be challenging due to jurisdiction and identity issues. It is very easy for a conman to put up fraudulent advertisements and fleece the public without ever being identified or caught.

My advice is use secure websites and furthermore, read through the websites policies. In the event of doubt seek clarification.

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