Thursday, January 7, 2010

Are South Africa's business ethics Wild West?

On Monday 4 January 2010 I bought Gillette Razor blades with a value of R 185.00 at the Clicks store at Campus Square shopping centre, Johannesburg. I realized that I had bought the wrong blades after I had opened the packet at home. Gillette has two razor shaving systems that look quite similar but that require different and specific razor blades.

I had merely cut the cover paper of the razor blades but I did not take the blades out of their plastic covers.

The next day, 5 January 2010, I was told by the store manager that he would not refund the blades as I had opened the packet. I told him that I had no use for the blades and that I would have to throw them away. He told me that I should have consulted properly with staff in order to buy the right blades. I accepted that I had bought the wrong blades by mistake but since I had no use for these blades, I required a refund. He refused.

I then called the Clicks Customer Centre. The agent repeated the same argument from the store manager: it was my mistake as the packet had been opened and the hygiene of the packet was compromised. The agent even asked me if I would buy blades from an open packet. Then, I was told that they would call the store manager to convince him to refund the blades. I told the agent that I would like to speak to the Regional Manager as it seems to me Clicks has a policy of refusing refunds. I was not called back the same day as I had requested.

On 6 January 2010, I called them again. No progress was reported. One hour after my call, another agent called to tell me that the Regional Manager would call me within the hour. He duly called and repeated the same: how thankful I should be that they refund the blades as they were wasted for them. Clicks would carry a loss from the refund. When I asked if Procter and Gamble, the owner of Gillette, would refund them, he said no. He denied that it was Clicks policy to discourage refunds.

I find this statement, that Procter and Gamble, would not refund Clicks hard to believe. I had contacted their Customer Care Line and they agreed without any questioning to refund me. All I had to do was to send them the purchased blades. If Procter and Gamble refunds an individual consumer, would they not refund a much more powerful retail company?

On 7 January 2010, I went back to the Campus Square Clicks and my purchase was refunded. Which raises the question: why could the store manager issue a refund only once I had contacted the Clicks Customer Centre? Why would he agree to do something three days later which he had previously refused?

Or has Clicks so little confidence in their store managers that they require these safety measures as to avoid internal corruption? Is it then a safety measure in order to avoid abuse? Or is this an administrative system that tries to make it as cumbersome as possible for Clicks clients to receive a refund?

If you look up Clicks on the ‘Hello Peter’ consumer complaints website, you will see that there are a high number of cases that individuals report and in which store managers refuse refunds for all kinds of reasons.

A colleague of mine had purchased in November 2009 prescription glasses with a value of R 400.00 at the Clicks store in Pretoria CBD. When she realized that they had the wrong strength, she brought them back. The store manager refused a refund on the grounds that the security label had been removed and hence she would not refund the glasses. My colleague accepted this and she had to buy another pair without the benefit of a refund.

The Consumer Protection Act of 2009 makes it quite clear that consumers are entitled for refunds under certain conditions. In the case of the razors, since the goods were in a packet, and I could not clearly establish that these were the correct blades I required, I should be legally entitled to a refund. The store may deduct a certain amount of the purchasing price for repackaging, but to claim that since the packet had been opened, no refund could be given, appears to be a contravention of the Act. In the case of the prescription glasses, the contravention of the Act seems to be even more blatant.

I find it quite unacceptable that a national retail chain seems to have instructed store managers to refuse refunds. Only when going through the call centre will a refund be granted. Clearly, this is highly consumer unfriendly, probably illegal and if they would state this refund policy openly, customers would be more careful when making a purchase at Clicks.

I wonder how many people have the means and the stamina to follow up on a mere refund. Most other retail stores accept refunds in the store with a receipt without having to go through a call centre. I wonder how many people have accepted the ‘no’ from the store manager and how much money has been taken out of South African consumers pocket and transferred to Clicks without any merit, any service rendered, and without any benefit to the consumer.

I have contacted The Star newspaper, the Sowetan, and the Speak Out tv program and hope their consumer reporters will pick the story up. Also, I have launched a complaint with the South African Consumer Protector at the local government call centre.

While I did eventually receive a refund, Clicks policy that renders getting a refund very cumbersome reflects poor business ethics. It is about time that South African business steps out of its Wild West attitude and lives up to the high moral values of a Nelson Mandela for which our country reached world-wide fame.

1 comment:

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