Be careful about your electronic goods

06/07/2016 12:04

With the massive sale and promotions underway to celebrate the season’s festivity, consumers are reminded to be smart and conscious when choosing electronic goods for themselves and their loved ones.

With the proliferation of smart phone use and advances in technology, buying ‘digital’ devices is abuzz this Christmas and New Year. There is something for everyone when it comes to electronic goods as some homemakers are still crazy about buying that microwave or slow-cooker they have been planning for a year.

But, buying electronic goods/gadgets is almost an art as our marketplace does have a number of counterfeit and sub-standard products. Counterfeit or fake electronic goods almost always contain incorrect or faulty parts that can overheat or break just days after purchase. This can increase the risk of fire or electric shock.

Some of you may have experienced that few days after you purchased a hair styling product or mobile phone chargers, they stopped malfunctioning.

It is, indeed, a nightmare for many consumers who spend their hard earned money on cheap and counterfeit products under the impression that they will last them long. Unfortunately, their hope is short-lived when the products begin to malfunction and are not fit for its purpose. 

The worst side–effect of buying electronic goods is when consumers take it for repairs and are informed by their salespersons (or hire purchase companies) that there is no back-up service  or spare parts available. In some cases, the brands are just discontinued without anyone’s notice.

This leaves the aggrieved consumers in a dilemma. Since, 1 January 2015 to 30 November 2015, the Council received an alarming 194 complaints regarding electronic goods (Home Brands) while 151 complaints were filed with the Council in the same period relating to mobile phone products (handsets).

Some issues in relation to electronic goods includes: the products stopped working from the very first day of purchase, some of the items began to overheat, foreign languages were appearing on the screen of phones and tablets, and leakages in fridges. This indicated that the items have been of sub-standard quality and/or have been faulty or dysfunctional.

Product warranty also remains an issue, as some consumers are unaware of the terms and conditions in hire purchase agreements from their credit providers. Some do not have the knowledge as what all are covered in the warranty and what are not. For instance, not all phone companies include liquid damage relating to mobile phones and tablets in their warranty covers.

Unfortunately, some unethical businesses use festive seasons to clear their outdated and old stock goods. This includes some brands which have phased out by the manufactures years ago.  Consequently, consumers are left to suffer with loss of both money and time, as they run around to have the items fixed when it malfunctions.

Over the years, the Council has found that some traders are bringing in products with incompatible voltage and often consumers have to spend extra money on buying adapters. Consumers are encouraged to always seek information on appliance voltage from the retailers before buying them.

We are aware of some traders who are unwilling to repair or replace faulty products. They do not have the required spare parts for particular products. Appliances break down only hours after repairs. Traders do not willingly repair items which are still under warranty or asking the already troubled consumers to contact manufacturers for repairs.

The Council has a number of such cases and here’s one such glaring example:

Case Study

In January 2014, Elena Baravilala purchased a 7.5kg Sharp washing machine worth $799 on hire purchase from a renowned electronic goods store in Suva. The product had a supplier’s/manufacturer’s warranty for a year.  During the warranty period, the washing machine became defective and was returned to the hire purchase company for repairs. Elena made numerous phone calls and made many visits to the seller to inform them of the defect and seek their assistance for repairs to the item as it was still under warranty. 3 months later, she again started to follow-up on the repairs through phone calls, email exchanges and store visits. As a concerned consumer, she wanted to enquire about the progress of the repair. Ms. Baravilala went to the extent of contacting the supplier, but to no avail. She was quite frustrated with the running around and ultimately, sought the Council’s assistance. Upon the Council’s intervention, the complainant was provided with a new replacement 7.5kg Maxton brand washing machine together with a TV desk and an electric fan to compensate for the delay. This made up the total amount she owed to the credit provider.

Like Elena Baravilala, there are many consumers who are not provided timely redress in the marketplace.

Consumer responsibility is quite important. Consumers are encouraged to inspect the items for any damages and have it tested ensuring that it is fit for its purpose. They must ask questions about the warranties (manufacturer’s and extended warranties) on the products, backup service and availability of spare parts. When consumers opt to buy electronic goods on hire purchase, they need to exercise caution and be a smart consumer.

If you are treated unfairly by a trader, know your consumer rights and responsibilities. Consumers who are sold a defective item or the item is not fit for its purpose, then consumers can have the electronic product either repaired, replaced or refunded the price paid for the product.