Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

[These are the highlights of a very long email we received.]

I bought a bed at a furniture store in Molepolole in 2010 October. After 3 weeks when I was asleep the bed made a funny noise when I turned and it sinks in the middle. Everyday I wake up I am tired with backaches because I have to sleep in the middle and it is sunken.

I reported the problem to the shop before December and they promised to exchange it. Even though I have paid for delivery initially they expected me to transport the two beds for myself (the one from my house and the exchange one). We discussed the issue but later the manager promised to deliver for me but only after a week as their delivering van is elsewhere. Weeks passed with no delivery. In December I called them I asked them to let me transport the bed for myself and the manager agreed but she later called me to tell me that their boss has ordered them to wait and not let me transport it for myself as she will be coming the following Monday.

On the Christmas week I called them reminding them that I am still waiting and to my surprise they told me that they aren’t offering exchanges as they have limited stock.

[This is where the email gets very long. The store gave her a range of excuses about having no stock, the manager explaining that so many beds have “gone wrong” that they don’t have any replacements.]

In April I learnt from a friend who also has the same problem that the shop is now closed and it’s advertised for rent. She told me she called the manager and she told her that they have closed the Molepolole branch and only left with Gaborone and Kanye branches. I tried to call the manager but didn’t pick the phone.

I called the store owner and we had a long chat and she explained her problems with suppliers, the shortage of replacement beds she was facing and also that she had tried to fix the problem on several occasions but that there had been some communication problems between them and the customer.

I suggested that she and the customer have a quick chat on the phone and within minutes I was receiving messages saying the problem has been resolved, a new bed will be with her the following day.

The lesson is that sometimes communications break down, misunderstandings develop and then people become angry. That’s when it’s sometimes useful to turn to us as a neutral outsider. Despite what people often think we don’t always take sides. Although I sometimes love a good fight I much prefer it when a consumer and a supplier sort out a problem on good terms.

Holiday club woes

We’ve heard from another consumer who has had problems with holiday clubs. This time it’s another South African one calling itself Holiday Access. He says:
“Last year May I went for a conference in Durban where I was approached by the Holiday Access Sales Agents (I think). Because I had always wanted to sign up for a holiday club package I went to listen to the Holiday Access presentation and I was quite impressed with it. To that effect, I signed up for a 3 year membership package amounting to R6,500. I then made an initial payment of R1,000 through swiping a debit card. From then I signed a debit order of R229 for the next 24 months.”

That’s when it started to go wrong. To begin with there were endless problems trying to set up a direct debit across the border. He started to pay them the fees in cash over the counter but that incurred enormous additional bank charges. Eventually he decided that enough was enough and he wanted out. That’s when they insisted he had signed a 3-year contract and that there was no way out of it. He says that the last person at Holiday Access he spoke to said that:
“if I terminate she will have to hand over the process to her bosses who will hand over to their lawyers to take legal action against me.”
We’ve heard of this so often with holiday clubs and it seems like this bunch are no different to the others. They trap you in to a contract they claim you can’t escape and they really, really want your money.

So what’s our advice regarding holiday clubs?

Steer clear of them. They’re not even a very good way of taking holidays. They give you little flexibility, there are huge restrictions on when you can go on holiday, where you can go and, most importantly, they only provide accommodation. They don’t pay for your transport, food, drink or entertainment. You are much better off going to your local travel agent and finding what amazing special deals they have on offer.

If you do a quick search of other consumer web sites (Holiday Access, Flexi Club, Holiday Club) you’ll see that we’re not the only ones warning people about holiday clubs. If you fancy some amusement you can also see some of the threatening letters we got last time as well as our very polite letters back to them suggesting where they could stick their silly threats.

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