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E-COMMERCE

Bait marketing: Consumer ombud issues a warning against an online retail supplier

The consumer ombud has advice for shoppers after receiving hundreds of complaints about an online retailer: always use reputable suppliers, be wary of unrealistically low deals and perform due diligence.

It’s just over a month until the biggest shopping sale of the year – Black Friday at the end of November – and the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud has issued a warning against yet another online store.

The ombud has previously issued warnings against Mr Shopper and Wiegenkind Boutique. Over the past nine months, 328 consumers have lodged complaints with the ombud against Ana Eleven Brand, an online store selling women’s clothing.

Complaints include the boutique failing to deliver goods or delivering the wrong goods and/or the wrong sizes. Although most of the complaints relate to Ana Eleven Brand’s online platform, the store also has a physical presence at the Northview Shopping Centre, Northriding, Randburg.

Ombud Magauta Mphahlele says this is a case of “classic bait marketing” where the online shop advertises products in the full knowledge that they do not have sufficient stock. As soon as payment is made, consumers are told that the goods are out of stock, and the promised refunds either don’t materialise, or there is an inordinate and unreasonable delay in refunding customers.

Ana Eleven’s website states the following: “You can return any item or exchange the item within 30 days of purchase: at [your] own cost. You can exchange your product for store credit or a different product of similar value… Please note, Ana Eleven Online Store and/ or Ana Eleven Boutique Store will not accept ANY returns for cash refunds. We have no obligation to consider ANY requests placed outside of the timeframe of 30 days of our return and exchange policy.”

This returns policy and refusal to issue cash refunds falls foul of the Consumer Protection Act, which states that you can ask a supplier to repair or replace an item or give you a full refund. You cannot return the item if you were made aware of a defect at the time of purchase and you chose to buy it anyway.

Arinda Truter, an associate at Dingley, Marshall, Lewin, says you can insist on a cash refund rather than store credit or vouchers; or you can ask for a similar item as a replacement at no additional cost to yourself.

Mphahlele says her office has 138 open cases against the boutique, several of which have been referred by the ombud to the National Consumer Commission for non-cooperation. In August, the ombud had a meeting with the supplier, who promised to resolve all complaints within a week. There has been no progress to date, however, and Ana Elven Brand has failed to redress consumer complaints adequately.

“Taking money from consumers and then failing to deliver the agreed goods and services is a contravention of the Consumer Protection Act, which governs suppliers’ obligations in terms of the delivery of goods or services, and their responsibility in the event they are unable to deliver,” says Mphahlele.

Under the Act, suppliers are responsible for delivering goods or services on the agreed date and at the agreed time, or otherwise within a reasonable time after concluding the transaction or agreement. If a supplier fails to deliver goods as agreed and also fails to reach an agreement regarding alternative delivery dates and times, you have the right to cancel the transaction without penalty and to receive a full refund.

Mphahlele says Ana Eleven Brand appears to be in contravention of the section of the Act that states suppliers cannot accept payment if there is no reasonable basis or intention to supply those goods, or the supplier intends to supply goods that are materially different from the goods for which payment was accepted.

“If you shop online, transact with reputable retailers and be especially wary of unrealistically low deals. We further advise you to do due diligence before parting with your hard-earned money by checking with online communities before purchasing from unfamiliar online sites,” she says.

A quick search on the Hello Peter website reveals that Ana Eleven Brand has an average rating of 2.23 based on 99 reviews. Of those 99 reviews, 27 give the company a five-star rating, but these reviews look suspiciously like planted reviews to boost the company’s rating.

Online shopping boom

According to WorldWideWorx, e-commerce sales in South Africa increased by 66% to R30-billion in 2019 – more than double the value of 2018 sales, and 50% higher than forecasts that predicted a R20-billion industry by 2020.

A survey by OneDayOnly.co.za in August showed that 47% of respondents claimed they spend more online than at traditional brick-and-mortar retail outlets. As many as 46% reported an overall decrease in household income, however, and 73% of respondents were looking for affordable deals to get the best value for their money; 70% indicated that they only shop for necessities; while 14% were looking for bulk deals to further reduce costs. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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