By Dumisani Nsingo
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) and the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) have taken a swipe at retail outlets’ unorthodox ways of failing to display prices of products on shelves in a deliberate ploy to conceal price hikes.
CCZ executive director Ms Rosemary Siyachitema said the consumer watchdog has noted with concern the cunning tendencies by most retailers, especially grocery shops across country of deliberately removing price tags.
A survey by Sunday Business at most grocery shops in Bulawayo revealed that most of them were no longer displaying prices of goods on their shelves.
“If there is a crisis in terms of shortages and a wave of price increases retailers tend to remove price tags and this frustrates consumers because one gets into a supermarket and wants to get a couple of things knowing that you have a certain amount in your purse.
“As a result people are forcibly taking a certain product without knowing its price because they are in need of that particular product and in most instances the price of that product would have been increased and usually the increase will be beyond what we all understand,” she said.
Ms Siyachitema said the inserting of prices on products by registered retailers was enshrined in the Draft Consumer Protection Bill.
“If you look at the Draft Consumer Protection Bill, it has a specific section where it talks about the issue of putting prices on products because it is a consumer right to ensure that when one shops they are aware of how much they are going to spend, so that one can pick up products equivalent to the cash at their disposal. Retailers are duty and honour bound to put prices on products,” she said.
Ms Siyachitema said there was a need for the Government to expedite the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act so as to curb a spate of unconscionable practices being exerted by most businesses against their customers.
“What we have been waiting for since long back is that the Consumer Protect Act be put into place because a number of issues affecting consumers are spelt out there. There are elements of legality and criminalisation in the Bill.
“The Act is not only going to look into prices. It has a much wider scope that it looks at in relation to consumer rights, we have seen in the past some Bills being fast tracked but we have been working on it for years,” she said.
Ms Siyachitema said presently CCZ had no legal statute to bring to book retailers flouting various business practices.
“At the moment we might approach supermarkets accusing them of failure to display prices but they will give us a run around.
We now want something legal with “teeth” to warn such perpetrators and give them a time frame and in the event of failure to oblige they will be consequences. We believe most retailers need to be “whipped” to toe the line for exercising bad behaviour,” she said.
Ms Siyachitema said it was inappropriate for supermarkets to inscribe “parcels left at owner’s risk” at their parcel storage facilities as well as printing of contractual agreements in small prints was not obliged.
“According to consumer rights, the onus is on the seller to explain to the buyer everything written on the contract but we have realised that retailers have a tendency of tying purchasers to a contract without them understanding its contents and don’t even give cooling off periods and as a result a lot of people have lost a lot of property including houses because of failure to understand the terms of the contract that are mostly written in small print,” she said.
The consumer watchdog boss also said the influx of foreign products over the years into the country had also led to an increase of goods whose packaging is inscribed in foreign and unfamiliar languages.
“In the Consumer Protection Bill it’s enshrined that goods being sold locally should have instructions written on them in a language understood by locals and even our constitution speaks to that as well.
here is also a need for legitimate expectation so that if one buys a certain product it should have a certain lifespan. We have received a number of complaints whereby the legitimate expectation of certain products is not met,” said Ms Siyachitema. Sunday News.