Consumer rights
Brand power
Pushpa Girimaji says once a consumer asks for a particular brand then selling anything else would be a violation of his right to choice

Whatís in a name?" said William Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet. But in this age of branding and brand wars, where a brand name can influence consumer choice and bolster companiesí profit margins, ask a manufacturer that question and he is sure to say that his entire business rests on the name.

There are also consumers who swear by one brand or the other and are even prepared to pay more for it. They hardly ask themselves whether the reputation of a particular brand is really well earned or just earned through sustained advertisement campaigns.

In fact, consumer groups that conduct comparative testing of products have found that little known brands are sometimes far superior in quality to better known and more expensive brands. In fact it is for this reason that consumer groups have been taking up comparative testing of different brands so that a consumer can make an informed choice on the basis of facts and figures rather than tall claims advertised by manufacturers.

Eventually, whether a consumer choice is based on comparative test results or advertisements or feedback from friends and relatives or their own faith in a certain brand on the basis of past experience, once they ask for a particular brand, supplying or selling anything else constitutes violation of a consumerís right to choice. And on this issue, many a consumer case has been fought and won.

In the case of Giriraj Studio vs M/S Koron Business Systems and another, for example, the apex consumer court made it clear that delivering a brand or a model other than the one ordered by the consumer constituted an unfair trade practice (RP no 2419 of 2002). In this case, the consumer had ordered a photocopier by the name of Kores Sharp KS 1101, manufactured in collaboration with Sharp Corporation, Japan. However, upon delivery, the consumer noticed that he had been sent Kores winner 1101. Interestingly, in this case, the company argued that there was no difference in the technology between the two names and that it was the same product, but with a changed name. The consumer courts at the district and the state level accepted this argument and dismissed the complaint of the consumer. However, the apex consumer court held a contrary view.

Saying that the lower forums had failed to exercise their jurisdiction, thereby resulting in miscarriage of justice, the apex consumer court said the respondent had indulged in unfair trade practice and should therefore refund the cost of the copier along with 10 per cent interest. Pointing out that a consumer placed a lot of reliance on a brand name and even paid more for a brand, the apex consumer court said if there was any change in the brand name of the copier, the consumer should have been told about it. By failing to do so, the respondent had committed an unfair trade practice.

In some cases, the dispute may not be about the brand name, but about certain specifications for a product stipulated by the consumer. Even here, the apex consumer court has made it clear that consumer choice is supreme and selling anything other than what the consumer ordered constitutes an unfair trade practice. In fact under the CP Act, such a product also comes under the definition of "defect". Therefore, the shopkeeper who delivers or supplies such a product is liable to refund the cost of the product as well as pay compensation for any inconvenience or harassment caused to the consumer.

In the case of Hajarimal Moonat vs Kumar Iron Works, for example, the complaint was that certain hardware items meant for fixing steel doors and hinges supplied by Kumar Iron Works did not conform to the size or the specifications given by the complainant. As a result, they could not be used at all. Here, the highest consumer court ó the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission ó held that the goods were defective in that they did not conform to the specifications given by the consumer and therefore were unsuitable for the intended purpose (RP no 256 of 1996). Similarly, where the consumer asked for ordinary portland cement, but was actually supplied slag cement, the consumer court awarded compensation on the ground that the product was not of the quality sought the consumer and claimed by the trader and was therefore defective. (S. Elhence vs Raghomal Nahar Singh, RP no 86 of 1990,NC)

In other words, you have a right to choose and when you exercise that right, the shopkeeper had better respect it. But do make an informed choice. Compare brands, check with friends and relatives and do base your decision on the quality of the product, its after sales service and its price and not just on its name.