We have been bombarded with false or deceptive sales, advertising, and marketing promotional strategies, and no one seems to be checking on these.
One of the primary objectives of the Consumer Act is to protect consumers against deceptive, unfair and unconscionable sales acts and practices.
Have consumers become so indifferent that they would just not complain because of the tedious process, not to mention the cost it may entail?
Has government, particularly the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), abandoned its mandate to protect the interest of the consumer, to promote his general welfare, and to establish standards of conduct for business and industry?
Have advertisers forgotten about their commitment to “truth in advertising?”
For sure, we would hear complaints from accountable agencies about budget and personnel problems. But then we ask, why do they have budget for trips abroad supposedly for investment caravans? DTI has been too busy trying to attract investments, but local consumers seem to be taken for granted, if not ignored.
In the supermarkets, we would often see “buy one, get one free” or “buy two, get one free” sale items. Be wary of the misuse of the word “free” because there are instances when the tag price of the first item is jacked up to make it appear that you get the second item for free when in had been included in the overall tag price.
Under the normal definition of “free,” which is devoid of cost or obligation, the second item is not “free” because you are obliged to pay the full cost of the first item to get it. It is therefore just a sales gimmick.
So, it is always best to have an idea of the prevailing price of the promotional items to make sure you are not duped.
Let’s take the price of pan de sal. We would hear or read news that its price would remain the same despite price increase in basic ingredients like flour. But have you noticed how the size of pan de sal has shrunk?
Every day we see price manipulation, incomplete or inconsistent comparison, misleading illustration, false coloring, angel dusting, bait-and-witch, false guarantee, “No risk” trial, acceptance by default, and so other deceptive gimmicks to boost product sales.
Be careful with manipulated words such as organic, light/lite, or all-natural when these may be meaningless but used simply as promotional gimmicks to entice unsuspecting consumers.
Tobacco companies used terms like low tar, light, ultra-light, mild or natural to imply that products with such labels had less detrimental effects on health, but these were proven in recent years as misleading.
There are also cases when products are advertised as “better” (meaning, one item is superior to another) or “best” (the product is superior to all others) when there are no comparisons presented.
Another common deception in product promotions is misleading illustrations. Go to a burger joint and be enticed with enlarged photos of deliciously-looking juicy burgers around the store. Once you get your order, it is not just the presentation that is disappointing, but also the size. At times, the garnishing that adds color to the photo is absent.
In some products, the serving suggestions are much less than what appears in advertisements. In others, coloring is enhanced to make consumers think that the food is riper, fresher, or healthier than it really is.
There is also a bait-and-switch gimmick where items are advertised, but are unavailable when you go to the store, and you are offered a similar product at higher price.
Big supermarkets practice this, and they get away with it.
Take my experience with Shop Wise. Last year, it offered Sola Swiss cutlery sets for free if a consumer collects enough stamps. For every P750 worth of grocery items, a consumer gets one stamp during the promo period (March 29-July 18, 2012). I aimed for a three-piece salad serving set, which needed 26 stamps to redeem. Because I had a Rustan’s Citicard, and I buy sponsor products, I was able to get bonus stamps without having to spend P19,500 for the salad serving set.
I tried to redeem the “free” item before the end of the promo period, but Shop Wise had run out of supply, not only of the salad serving set but all the other sets. Yet, counter cashiers kept on giving stamps, and customer assistants kept promising customers that more items would be shipped in and would be available soon.
They had a reservation list with the customers’ names, contact numbers and reserved items. They promised to call when the shipments arrive. But I did not get any call.
Finally on July 27, 2013 (that was after one year and 11 times of going back to Shop Wise to claim the item I wanted), I was told the shipment had arrived. However, the only set the Commonwealth branch could offer was a six-piece coffee spoons set that required 20 stamps.
The store supervisor, Janet delos Santos, said I should either get the coffee spoon set that’s available or I get nothing because the supplier had run out of stock of the salad serving set. Was that fair?
Yes, there are means of redress, but it is too time-consuming and there is no certainty that the complaint will be addressed after filling out a form.
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