The iPad is shown after it was unveiled at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Pretoria - What is a “demo”? It’s one of the most abused, misleading words in consumerland.

The word is short for demonstration, so consumers assume it means that the company allowed would-be buyers to test-drive a product before committing to buying it.

In reality, a “demo” is often simply a second-hand product with an inflated price, which has been used by company staff as their own, and not all that well, in some cases.

Here’s a shocking tale about an Apple iPad sold as a “demo” to Kerry McElwee at Incredible Connection in Eastgate on December 29.

She paid R3 999 for a 32GB iPad2, having been quoted that price as “special” on the phone, and then told at the store it was a “demo”.

“I was happy to take it, as it was a gift for my mother, who would only use it for playing word games,” she said.

But when McElwee started setting up the iPad the next day, she discovered that a previous owner’s e-mail address was still loaded on it.

McElwee called the branch and an assistant manager said she could return it for a refund, or pay in for a better model. “But that isn’t the issue,” she said. “I am furious that I have been conned into purchasing a second-hand item.”

She said he “appeared to be incapable of grasping the difference between ‘demo’ and second-hand, or why I was so annoyed”.

McElwee voiced her annoyance on several sites, and ultimately a regional manager contacted her, acknowledged she shouldn’t have been sold that iPad as a demo and arranged for her to swop it for a new iPad Air at the Greenstone branch, worth almost double what she had paid for the “demo”.

“While I’m very impressed with the manner in which that manager handled my complaint, and delighted with the new product, I still have questions around what information Incredible Connection Eastgate discloses to their customers, and perhaps at other branches, too,” she said.

McElwee later tracked down the previous owner of that “demo” iPad, who said she’d been sold the iPad as new, but had found someone else’s photos on it. The iPad also had software-related problems when she returned it, she said.

I tried to find out when and at which branch that woman bought the iPad, but she failed to respond to my e-mail.

Responding on behalf of Incredible Connection, customer relations manager Ankia van der Pluym said any faulty unit should be returned to the supplier for assessment.

“Should we then issue the customer a replacement unit, or a refund in terms of the Consumer Protection Act, the faulty unit would then remain with the supplier,” she said. “So, it is highly unlikely that a faulty unit would return to store stock in the first place. This incident is really unfortunate and should never have happened, in terms of our in-store processes. It’s a serious offence.”

Apple products were handled by Core Technologies in South Africa, she said. “I can assure you that they would never reintroduce these units back into the market as new, as they have stringent measures and requirements in place. We will investigate the matter further for internal purposes.”

I pointed out that the iPad in question was not sold as new to McElwee, but as a “demo” and that the concern in this case was that the same tablet had apparently been reintroduced for sale not once, but twice, the first time as “new”, the second as a “demo”.

“How was it possible for company policy and procedures to be violated, not once, but twice, with regard to the same item?” I asked.

Van der Pluym said: “I agree 100 percent. We will most definitely address this internally.”

* Wendy Knowler is Independent Newspapers' consumer editor. Her column Consumer Watch is published twice a week in The Star, Pretoria News, Cape Times and Daily News. Write to her at [email protected]