All person buying or consuming goods and services expects to get the best value for the money spent. He also has some rights and responsibilities over the quality of the goods bought and opportunity to seek redress. It is therefore necessary that consumers should be properly guided in order to manage their financial resources wisely.
Definition of Consumer
Consumer is anybody who buys products or services from where it is expected (market) such that the he gets the best from the goods or services paid for. For example a person that subscribes to Global System of Mobile Telecommunication (GSM) for telephone calls should not experience anything like ‘network is busy’; the person you are calling is not available at this time, ‘please call again later’, or paying for electricity bills where one has been without light for days.
Rights of the Consumer
Consumer rights are laws aimed at protecting consumers when they buy goods or services. The following are universal consumer rights:
- Right to safety: This right protects the consumer from hazardous goods.
- Right to information: The consumer needs information on alternative products available, and protection from false and misleading claims in advertising and labelling practices.
- Right to choose: This involves availability of competing goods and services that have the same price, quality and service.
- Right to be heard or redress: This right assures the consumer of governments protection through laws and easy access to getting justice.
- Right to consumer education: The consumer should be educated about the various consumer goods and services, prices, and standard trade practices etc.
- Right to consumer representation: Consumer Protection Council should always be ready to assist consumers to get justice.
- Right to satisfaction of basic needs: A consumer should be satisfied with the purchase of basic needs like food, clothing and shelter.
- Right to health environment: Individuals to keep their environments clean, ban on cigarette smoking in public places, laws to protect the environment and government to provide waste disposal treatment plants.
Challenges to the Consumer
Consumers face a lot of challenges, when they buy goods and services. Amongst them include the following:
- Ignorance of consumer rights.
- Lack of communication organ to inform consumers on their rights.
- There are limited number of consumer protection council offices where consumers should make their complaint.
- Slow redress processes.
- Uncontrolled sale of hazardous and fake products.
- Consumers interest do not receive due consideration at appropriate forum.
- There are no definite standards by industries and professional bodies to safeguard the interest of the consumers.
Redress Options to Consumers
A customer is a ‘king’ is the popular saying that justifies the superiority of consumers in market places. In an event where the consumer is not satisfied, he is free to seek for compensation i.e. ‘redress’ through a regulatory body or other agencies. Some of the consumer redress options include the following:
- Public authorities: For example Consumer Protection Council (CPC). The primary function of this body to protect buyers of goods and services against low quality or dangerous products and advertisements that deceive people. They make laws that enable them perform this function. Consumer Protection Council is among the first point of call to aggrieved consumers. It is the best of all redress option because it can result in a positive response from suppliers in terms or providing compensations.
- Individual court action: This is very common especially where consumer is a victim of serious fraud. For example government failure to provide infrastructure but will intimidate consumers to pay using all forceful means, sale of land with forged documents etc. This process demands money, time and it is frustrating because of time delays in courts. However in some cases threat of court action prompts settlement out of court which is in the interest of the consumer.
- Consumer organisations: Examples of these are market associations and association of interest groups (motor parts association, yam sellers association, Nigeria Union of Teachers, etc.). This is often a good starting point for consumers complaints. They have helped in bringing action against companies on behalf of consumers.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): In this case mediators between suppliers and consumers are appointed by court or organisations. Mediators should be persons of proven integrity. He should also be neutral in his judgement. This process is prone to abuse in some cases.
- Collective court action: This is also very common especially with association of interest groups, usually against government agencies. It is very convenient for consumers because they employ the services of a lawyer, pay little and save time of going to court.
Procedure for Seeking Redress
Companies use different methods to advertise their products and make them look attractive to consumers. Consumers will purchase these products based on the claims of the companies and expect a certain level of satisfaction. However the products do not always meet the sellers claims or the customers expectation. The consumer has a right to be satisfied with a purchase and there are ways or procedure to enforce consumers rights. The following procedure is usually employed in seeking redress:
- Make photocopies of all documents that support your complaint e.g. receipts of transaction. Store original documents in a safe place since they may be needed as proof.
- Check the policies of the company and make sure you are acting within your rights.
- Make a complaint at the right place through letter, e-mail, phone call or a visit to the company.
- Show your supporting document and other evidence e.g. unsatisfactory item purchased. Take picture of the item and include it in the letter or scan to include in e-mail.
- Seek the services of a mediator if not successful on your own. Mediator helps to resolve issues between two parties but has no legal power to enforce the final decision.
- Seek legal consultation – A lawyer can advise you to proceed with the case or not, your chances of winning or other alternative methods of solving the problem.