Online shopping complaints spike

The top five business sectors that attracted the most complaints were telecommunications (34%), furniture retail (10%), appliance manufacturers/retailers (10%), clothing retailers (8%), and online (6%), said Magauta Mphahlele, the Ombudsman for Consumer Goods and Services in her 2018 / 19 annual report.

Coincidentally it’s in line with the gripes I get. Telkom tops the list and more recently MTN, followed by Vodacom and Cell C.

“During the reporting period, we received 8 261 complaints compared to 5 593 in the previous year – a 47% increase and closed 7 717 complaints – compared to 5 553 in the previous year.

“Despite the increase, we still managed to reduce the average days it takes to close a complaint from 47 to 45 days,” said Ms Mphahlele.

Media liaison manager, Ouma Ramaru, said that of the calls received, 40% were general enquiries, including complaints which were referred to other institutions because they were outside the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO’s) jurisdiction; 28% related to new complaints and 23% were follow-ups on existing complaints. The remaining 9% were internal calls.

Ms Mphahlele said while the biggest number of complaints emanated from the telecommunications industry, negative experiences as a result of shopping online rose 200%, from 2% in 2017/2018 to 6%.

“We anticipate this will be a growing trend as consumers get used to the convenience of online shopping. The CGSO will assist businesses to operate compliant online enterprises and educate consumers on how to protect themselves when transacting online: 36% of complaints were about defective goods, followed by services not up to standard at 32%, agreements at 23% and the remaining related to unfair treatment, lack of disclosure, marketing and health and safety. In 63% of cases there was a positive outcome, with 53% being in favour of the consumer, 6% partially and in 4% of cases assistance was given. When the cases were outside our jurisdiction they were referred to the NCC (National Consumer Commission), under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA),” Ms Mphahlele said.

“The positive outcomes are due to acts of goodwill, acceptance of our recommendations, amicable settlements and successful mediation.”

The good news is that even though the CGSO doesn’t have adjudicative and binding decision-making powers, since the office was established five years ago it has grown from 24 founder members to 727 members who subscribe to the code of conduct. Which means more power for the consumer. The list is on the website.

One case the ombud dealt with was alleged food poisoning. A customer complained to the store that after he had eaten seven biscuits he noticed “a human hair connecting three biscuits”. Three days later, he claimed, he developed a painful cough and sore throat and he wanted the biscuits analysed by a laboratory for disease-causing viruses and the supplier to pay for a doctor to examine him.

The store agreed that the customer complained about the biscuits but brought them back in pieces and without a till slip.

The store, however, offered a replacement and a refund which the customer accepted.

A few days later he returned demanding compensation for his poor experience.

But he had no evidence to support his claim and complained to head office about the poor treatment he received from the store manager.

The supplier could not complete the investigation as there was no packaging and they could not identify the product as theirs.

In the event the store offered the customer a R150 electronic voucher.

The CGSO said the CPA gives the consumer the right to good quality goods, and if the goods are defective the customer can demand a refund, replacement or repair, it’s their choice.

In this case the manufacturer, in the absence of evidence, could not identify the product.

But, said the ombud, the store went beyond the provisions of the CPA by refunding and replacing the product as well as giving the customer a voucher.

Section 61 of the CPA allows consumers to obtain redress if they become ill, or suffer damage because of a safety defect in a product.

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