CONSUMER WATCH DOG

New or used?

This shopper had splashed out on a new top-of-the-range phone that took pictures and videos, and had all sorts of other clever technological features.  He bought it from what he thought was a reputable store that, in the interests of self-protection, I'll just refer to as 'Cell Town'. That shouldn't give it away, should it?

Anyway, once he got his new toy home, he began to grow a little suspicious.  Was it possible that the phone wasn't exactly new?  Was it perhaps actually second-hand? 
What was giving him this impression?  Was he being irrational and paranoid?  Did he have any evidence?

Oh yes!

To begin with, there were the entries in the phone's 'Address Book'.  His supposedly new phone had in fact been used to store a number of phone numbers!  Better still, the phone already contained several amateur video clips.  Not the demonstration video clips they often come with; these were clearly home-made.  Nothing naughty, as far as I know, but I'll ask, anyway.

This is pretty damning evidence, don't you think? He isn't complaining about fingerprints or scratches. He has real and solid evidence that the phone isn't new.

OK, it's time for me to get all legal again.  My current favourite reading material, The Consumer Protection Regulations 2001, states very clearly that a supplier
"fails to meet minimum standards and specifications" if:
"representation is made that the commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand".

Those last few words are pretty clear, aren't they?  If you buy a cellphone in a cellphone shop, and the phone you buy does NOT have the words "second-hand" or "used" written all over it in great big glowing, preferably flashing, letters then you have a right to expect it to be new.  If it then turns out to be second-hand or used, then the store is in big mathata. 

OK, so maybe one of the employees at Cell Town just borrowed the phone over the weekend?  Does it really matter?

Well, I think it does matter. When I buy something new, when I've paid extra for something fresh off the production line, I want it to be just that. New. Not handled, mucked around with or generally, well, used.  That's why I'm volunteering to pay extra rather than buying it second-hand.  There's a principle at stake here.

We mentioned this story on our YaronaFM radio slot recently, and guess what happened?  Someone else called saying they had had exactly the same experience.  They bought a cellphone from the same place and found similar evidence that it wasn't new. Is a pattern emerging here?

I suppose there are several possible explanations. Firstly, perhaps Cell Town employees really are in the habit of borrowing phones over the weekend?  It must be tempting when you are surrounded by all those wonderful flashy toys that will impress the guys and girls in the bar on Friday night, but that doesn't excuse deceiving your customers.

Second possibility: Cell Town take second hand cellphones from customers when they upgrade to the latest model. Quite often stores do this.  They'll discount the new flashy model in exchange for your old model, which they can then sell as second-hand.  There's nothing at all wrong with this, except when they then sell your old, second-hand phone to another customer as 'new'.

Third and final possibility:  Are Cell Town, by any chance, receiving stolen goods?  This one I'm prepared to reject immediately. It's obviously not possible. It can't be.  I refuse to believe it, and neither should you. However, it wouldn't be that difficult for a store less reputable than Cell Town to pass off stolen goods as new.  All it would take is some empty cellphone boxes and some stolen phones. But it is clear that that's not the case here. So it must be either the first or the second possibility.

Frankly though, it doesn't matter. However it happened, whoever used the phone, it doesn't matter.  Our shopper bought a phone he honestly believed would be new and found out that it wasn't. The store can either replace the phone with a genuinely new one or give the shopper all of his money back.  And say sorry.  And mean it. Otherwise it's out of the shopper's hands, out of our hands and into the fists of the Consumer Protection Unit. End of story.

This week's stars!
l Tiny at HomeNet for helping to solve someone else's problem. Seeing that the hairdressers next door was closed when a customer appeared, he helped out by taking a message and got the hairdressers to call back.  Someone who sees the bigger picture!
Nominate someone for outstanding service and they could win an Apache Spur meal voucher. Our Birthday Party is rapidly approaching, and the more people we can celebrate the better!

Also visit our web site and take a look at our new blog. Go to www.bes.bw, click on Consumer Watchdog and you'll see a link there. Please leave comments, give us suggestions for things we should investigate, and tell us if you think we're doing well!
If you have any consumer issues and you think we could help, please get in touch.  You can contact Consumer Watchdog by emailing us at [email protected], by post to Consumer Watchdog, P. O. Box 403026, Gaborone or by phone on 3904582 or fax on 3911763. You can also visit our website at www.bes.bw and then click on the link to Consumer Watchdog.

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