We have become digital citizens and playing into this space is inevitable, says the writer. File photo

Pretoria - Imagine buying two items, from separate departments of a retail chain, on the same day, and later discovering that neither were new, having obviously been previously used by someone else.

And badly at that, in the case of a microwave which came with food splatter.

That was Farzeen Basha of Isipingo’s experience when she bought an LG microwave and an Acer laptop from Game in the Galleria shopping centre, south of Durban, two weekends ago.

“I was made to wait about half an hour for the laptop, and when it was brought to me it had tape on the seals,” Basha said.

“The salesman assured me it was the Acer seal. Unconvinced, I asked him to open the box, but I could only have a quick look, as my baby started crying.

“So I took it to the till and paid for it with the microwave.”

But when she started up the laptop at home, a user name – Nosipho2 – popped up with a password prompt.

“That’s when I realised it was far from new, and that the cables hadn’t been secured in the way they are with a new product.”

Naturally, she returned it to the store the following morning and was given a replacement, with a R150 voucher as an apology.

From there she drove to her mother’s home to deliver the microwave as a birthday gift.

“She took it out of the box and opened the door to find it filled with disgusting food spatter.

“And it didn’t even work.”

Furious, Basha called the store manager and a new microwave was subsequently delivered, this time with a R300 compensatory voucher.

“I still find it astounding that these two incidents occurred in the same store,” she told Consumer Watch.

Naturally, I was more than a little intrigued. What are the chances? Not good, one hopes.

So how did Basha come to purchase two used items, masquerading as new, from the same store on the same day?

Game public relations officer Shelley Kreinacke began her response by apologising to Basha “for the inconvenience caused after supporting our store with purchases”.

The company’s investigation into the two purchases had unearthed some “interesting information” in the case of the microwave, she said.

She put the sale of the used laptop down to “salesman error” and said he had been “made accountable for his actions”.

As for the microwave, it seems another customer took advantage of Game’s generous “if we stock it, we will swop it” policy.

“In terms of this policy, if a customer has purchased an item, or been given an item, that they no longer want, provided that we stock it and it is in its original packaging – unopened – a full refund is given.

“Proof of purchase is not required as the price is taken off the system,” Kreinacke said.

“So, when a customer brings an item to the customer services department requesting a refund, if the reason is ‘we have changed our mind’, then the customer services staff will inspect the item to ensure that it has not been opened, and if they are satisfied with this, the customer is refunded.

“Unfortunately, there are customers who abuse this consumer-friendly policy.”

In this case, a customer bought the microwave on February 18, and returned it the following day, trotting out the “change of mind” reason.

“The microwave itself was not inspected, as the box was still ‘sealed’ and proof of purchase was available from the previous day.

The customer was given a voucher which was immediately exchanged for cash and the “change-of-mind” item was returned to the sales floor.

And then along came Basha.

Once she’d returned the disgustingly dirty microwave – the other consumer clearly had dodgy hygiene to go with his or her dodgy morals – Game discovered that the microwave’s serial number did not match that on the box.

No surprise there – the microwave was nearly four years old.

“It appears that this customer took particular care when opening the seal so that he/she could easily seal the box once again without it looking like it had been opened.

“They now have a new microwave in place of their broken old one, and received a full refund when returning the ‘unwanted new’ model.

“We have been trying to get hold of this customer, but the number continues to go straight to voicemail.

“Such incidents are unfortunate, as they not only tarnish our reputation. But more importantly, they inconvenience other customers, who have to come back to the store to return these ‘second-hand’ items,” Kreinacke said.

Happily, Game will not be doing away with the policy because of the actions of a tiny percentage of customers.

Besides, it says it’s now devised a way of catching out the culprits.

Oh, and remember – the Consumer Protection Act does not empower consumers to return “change-of-heart” purchases for a refund or exchange, not unless they were bought as a result of direct marketing.

Stores such as Game, and others, may choose to take such goods back as a customer service – in most cases issuing a credit note – but it doesn’t make this a legal right. - Pretoria News