Let there be light
I had a lightbulb moment this week while reading about a woman who spent R4,600 on an outfit for her son’s wedding, only to get home and discover that it was badly flawed.
It happened during this sentence: “The lighting is very poor at that bridal-wear store.
“When we got home that afternoon, my sister placed the outfit on her bed and discovered that the beadwork hadn’t been sewn on most of the outfit, despite the salesperson being very convincing and assuring us that everything was perfect.”
The sisters took the R4,600 outfit back to the store straight away, and were given the “no exchanges, no refunds” line.
“She has e-mailed the company’s head office and stated her right to return a defective item within six months of purchase, thanks to the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), but they said that doesn’t matter, because that’s their company policy.”
I will be taking up that case, of course. Dealing with companies which believe that their self-serving policies trump the CPA, rather than the other way round, is a challenge I relish.
But it was the “poor lighting” bit which got me thinking about all the cases I’ve handled over the years, where the person’s problems began with low lighting.
Remember that awful, shameful “Drive a new car for R699” scheme by that Satinsky/Blue Lake crowd five years ago?
So many of those who signed up for their first new cars ended up in awful financial distress when the money they were promised for advertising the deal on their cars dried up.
Many of them told me how the cars were delivered to them in the early evening, and they signed the papers on the bonnet in the dim light, trusting what the salesman told them, because he was in a rush and they couldn’t really read the small print anyway.
I’ve had many cases of used cars being delivered in the evening, with the result that the buyer couldn’t spot the dodgy paintwork.
Whenever you’re about to do a deal and you notice that poor light is preventing you from seeing either the product or the paperwork properly, stop and ask yourself why that is.
It really does pay to be mindful.
Often a company will frame the fact that they are delivering a customer’s product after hours in fading light as if they are doing them a “going the extra mile” favour, when what they are after is their signature on a piece of paper agreeing that the goods, which can’t be seen properly, were delivered in good order.
Of course, the “poor light” scenario that crops up in my inbox most often is that of someone collecting a rental car in fading light or almost complete darkness from a car hire company’s airport parking lot.
Renters are given the keys to their allocated car in the office, make their way to the car alone, have a quick look at it, with no company representative in sight, and when they return with the car later, in good light, staff find a chip or dent they claim happened on the customer’s “watch” and they are charged for its repair.
As one complainant put it: “When you collect your vehicle it is always in a quite dimly lit area, but on return it looks like an operating table during heart surgery.”
An Avis official told me, in responding to one of my “customer says the dent/crack must have been there when she took the car” cases: “It remains the responsibility of the customer to satisfy themselves that the condition of the vehicle at the time of collection is as stated on the rental documentation.
“This responsibility is even more important when collecting a vehicle at an airport location where the sheer volume of business precludes us from doing vehicle inspections with every customer.”
The renter’s take-out was this: “You are powerless — they say there is new damage when you return the car, and they charge you. If you do not inspect that vehicle under a microscope with lights and mirrors to look underneath it before you drive off, you could be in for extra costs.”
So avoid having to collect a rental car in non-daylight hours, and if you absolutely must, hit the torch app on your phone, and spend as much time as you can looking for, noting and photographing any flaws.
Do look underneath the car, too — awkward, I know! — and check the roof for hail damage.
In short, the moment you think: “Gosh, I can’t see this properly” when you’re doing business, pause and consider the options you can take to protect yourself.
Do the car deal in the daylight (and ideally only after you’ve paid someone to do a professional assessment of it, inside and out); only buy the outfit or the piece of furniture if you can see it in good light; and never, ever sign a document without reading it because dim light makes those Ts and Cs even more difficult to read and digest than normal.
These things are seldom random in consumerland.