Consumer Watch

Wendy Knowler fights for your rights...

Wendy Knowler masthead
August 13 2012 at 10:15

Accountant Joan Masemeng e-mailed me a month ago about a Sasko Bakery staff bus which had ploughed into the wall of her family home in Soweto’s Mapetla Extension in the early hours of May 7, after the driver lost control of the vehicle.

The house, which originally belonged to Masemeng’s parents, is currently inhabited by her unemployed sister and her children.

So Masemeng contacted Sasko Bakery and was asked to source three repair quotes, which she did.

“They then told me they had to be formal quotes, so again, we complied,” she said. That quote was about R10 000.

“Since then – two months – there has been no communication from Sasko,” Masemeng wrote. “I have called on several occasions, and been sent from pillar to post.”

Having finally made contact with the company’s distribution manager, Masemeng and her sister went to see him in early June. He told them that because it could be a while before the wall was repaired, they should go ahead and get it repaired themselves, and Sasko would reimburse them.

“We asked for something in writing, on a letterhead, to confirm this commitment, but that never came, and instead we got an e-mail on July 6 saying simply: ‘Please carry on with the fixing of your wall, and please use this e-mail as a confirmation.’”

Unhappy with this, Masemeng wrote to Consumer Watch.

“My sister’s safety is jeopardised and she has children. She cannot afford to incur those costs. Sasko must fix our wall. Please help.”

I took up the case with Sasko – a division of Premier Foods – and on July 19 received an e-mail from Lulu Khumalo, corporate affairs and sustainability executive for Pioneer Foods.

Despite the fact that a third party “was deemed responsible for the accident”, she wrote, and despite the fact that the company’s insurer would not entertain a claim, Sasko’s Aeroton Bakery had undertaken to pay for the repair “as previously indicated”.

She said the bakery would consult the family “to agree on the best way forward”.

When Masemeng had not heard from Sasko 10 days later, I went back to the company and then received a letter dated July 31 from Johan Niemand, manager of Sasko Aeroton, confirming that Sasko would pay for the repair of the wall, that the company was in the process of sourcing quotes and that work would begin “within the next two weeks”.

And last week Niemand got back to me to say that a contractor would begin work on repairing the wall immediately.

So finally, three months after that bus destroyed a section of the family’s wall, it’s being rebuilt, and their security restored.

The only unwanted intrusion they’ve had to endure since their security was breached is goats entering the yard and eating their spinach.

Whatever the cause of that accident, and whatever the insurance implications, the fact is the family’s peace and security were shattered in the middle of the night when that bus smashed into their boundary wall, through no fault of theirs.

So it’s only fitting that the company that owns the bus does the right thing and makes good. Simple as that. In this case, better late than never.

Customer digs in her heels when her boots don’t live up to their price tag

There are exceptions, of course, but by and large, shoe retailers appear to be particularly resistant to consumers’ attempts to claim on the Consumer Protection Act’s implied warranty of six months.

In short, if within six months of purchase an item proves to be defective in some way, a consumer may return it for their choice of refund, replacement or repair.

The warranty doesn’t apply in the case of fair wear and tear, nor to consumer abuse or deliberate sabotage, naturally.

Sandra Murphy paid R2 790 for a pair of Italian black leather boots at Europa Art Shoes in Menlyn, Pretoria, in mid-April.

She wore them for the first time only at the end of May and within weeks, she said, the rubber sole began to peel off.

“There were signs of de-lamination on the toe area of both the boots, too.”

So on June 12 Murphy returned the boots to the store, expecting to be refunded.

Instead, she was told by the store manager that they would have to be sent to the company’s head office in Joburg in order for the damage to be assessed and repaired, if deemed appropriate.

The CPA allows suppliers to assess goods which customers return claiming to be defective, but as explained at length in this column previously, they may not unilaterally choose to repair a defective product if the customer has chosen a refund or replacement as their recourse.

And so it was that Murphy’s boots were returned to her with the soles glued back and the delamination corrected.

But a month later the sole was again coming loose in every place which hadn’t been reglued, and, Murphy says, the zip was coming loose on the inside of one boot, making it difficult to zip up.

“Also, the delamination problem had continued and the boots were looking really shoddy, after less than three months of wear.”

So in mid-July Murphy returned to the Menlyn store, and for the second time the boots were sent to head office and returned repaired.

“I was very unhappy, considering the price I’d paid for them, and that this was the second repair within a three-month period,” she said.

When she stood her ground, she was offered a credit for 50 percent of the cost of the boots.

“I refused to accept this, but was told the boots had been a best-seller for three years with no other reports of problems.

“Your help in resolving this matter would be gratefully appreciated.”

I raised the case with the store’s head office, pointing out that, apart from the fact that the boot was repaired despite Murphy’s request for a refund, even if the consumer does opt for a repair, if the repair fails within three months, or the goods prove unfit for purpose in any other way, the supplier may not repair the goods again – the only remaining options are refund or replacement.

Yianni Lambrakis responded thus: “Difficult to say who is right and who is wrong in this situation, when you are not dealing with the matter. Please let the customer go to the Menlyn store and receive a credit.”

I then asked Lambrakis whether it was her opinion that the boots were not defective in any way, and that the separating sole and other problems were the result of user abuse.

I also pointed out that customers were entitled to a refund when returning defective goods, not a credit.

Lambrakis responded: “It is difficult to say currently that the soles have been glued. I cannot see any glue on the soles.

“I am taking the client’s word.”

The scuff marks on the top of the boots were “normal wear”, she said, and the zip did not look problematic.

But given that the manager had resigned, she said, she couldn’t “argue the point”, hence her decision to pass a “credit/gift card/refund” to Murphy.

Murphy has since received her refund, but she remains confused by the owner’s response. “On both occasions the manager accepted the boots for repair and they were then indeed repaired, so if there was no damage, how could they have been repaired?

“And it was the manager who initially identified the delamination of the boots after less than a month’s wear.”

Game over after client’s store card is stolen

Carrie Hook of Durban took up the case of her boyfriend, Dwayne Grant, who had run into what appeared to be a case of extremely overzealous bureaucracy at Game’s Pavilion branch.

Grant’s wallet was stolen, along with his Game card and ID. But getting a replacement card from the Pavilion branch was proving impossible.

“We have twice visited the store with his passport and an affidavit signed at a police station, stating that his ID had been stolen, but the staff have refused to help him, saying it was against company policy to issue replacement cards without the presentation of an ID.

“We explained that both his ID and Game card had been stolen and that is why we had brought the affidavit and passport – which is a legitimate form of identification – but they insisted they could not assist us and wouldn’t even look at the affidavit.

“Is this normal? What are our options?”

To my mind it was an infuriating case of a company employee using “policy” to stonewall a customer with a legitimate request.

As I said in an e-mail to Game’s head office: “Clearly the company has to have procedures in place to protect itself and its customers, but Mr Grant has presented both a passport as a form of ID as well as an affidavit attesting to the theft of his Game card and ID –  it is common practice for a person to have both these items in their wallet or purse, hence losing both when one’s wallet is stolen is totally within the bounds of possibility, surely?”

Game spokeswoman Shelley Kreinacke said normally an ID or driving licence was required in order to issue a replacement card, but that “cases like this are considered as exceptional and managed accordingly if escalated for attention”.

“We have dealt with the agent that provided the initial response as she should have escalated the complaint for special consideration at that time,” Kreinacke said.

Grant has now received both a replacement card and an apology.

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