Selling defective goods is unfair trade practice

Pushpa Girimaji
Pushpa Girimaji

EVER heard of ashadha discount sale? Well, I am told that in Andhra Pradesh, an enterprising retailer hit upon this idea to boost his sagging sale during the month of ashadha in the Hindu calender, considered inauspicious. It was such a big hit that others followed suit, and ashadha sale is now a regular, yearly feature.

Similarly, in the last couple of years, Independence Day sale has become a big hit in the malls in and around Delhi, and is now catching up in other states too. Since the time coincides with the changing season, it gives retailers an opportunity to get rid of summer clothes and make way for winter apparels. For consumers, reeling under the escalating prices of essential goods, the sale offers some relief.

Besides, given the weather conditions at this time of the year, the sale also provides an opportunity to spend the holiday in the airconditioned environs of the malls. So, go out and enjoy your Independence Day outing by all means. But before buying anything, exercise caution. Remember, many times, the discounts may be just illusory and not real. The goods may be outdated in style and design, or even defective.

So donít get carried away by the frenzy of the mob at these sales. Look at the merchandise carefully, and make a considered decision. Let me give the experiences of two persons to give an insight into what could go wrong. In one particular case, the customer bought three pairs of branded trousers at Rs 2000 each at a sale. The cloth the trousers were made of was obviously defective because within just two wears, and even before a wash, it just gave way near the thighs. They were bought a year ago and the showroom is yet to respond to his complaint.

Just to find out whether the brand was selling defective pieces during the sale, the consumer bought similar trousers when there was no sale, and not surprisingly, they turned out to be of good quality. In another case, a friend bought a formal jacket at a sale, where the price reduction offered was 20 per cent. She had bought an identical jacket (except for the colour) from the same shop a couple of months ago and, curious, she checked the price she had paid at that time, and found that there was no difference.

When she confronted the shopkeeper, he admitted that he had jacked up the price by 20 per cent, and offered a 20 per cent discount. I remember a case investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a couple of years ago, wherein a jeweller was found to be deliberately misleading people about the discount. In his mass distribution catalogue, announcing sale on Valentineís Day and Motherís Day, he showed 17 pieces of jewellery, indicating the earlier price and the marked down price. However, investigations found that the jeweller had never sold the pieces at the astronomical prices that he was quoting as the price before discount. Unfortunately, the Competition Commission of India does not act as a watchdog of consumer interests in cases of unfair trade practices (UTP) such as these.

The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission, before it was replaced by the competition commission, did investigate into many such sales and put a stop to those found to be inimical to consumer interest. Unfortunately, the government has not bothered to fill in the vacuum created by the MRTP Commission in so far as unfair trade practices are concerned.

Unlike the MRTPC, the consumer courts constituted under the Consumer Protection (CP) Act do not have the power to investigate suo motu into such cases. However, they can adjudicate over complaints of UTP filed by consumers and award compensation to the victims. Under the CP Act, making false or misleading claims about a bargain sale, or not selling at the price advertised, constitutes an unfair trade practice. Similarly, advertising a bargain sale without intending to offer it at the stated price, or for a period and in quantities that are not reasonable, is also an unfair trade practice.

I must also mention here that retailers tend to give people an impression that they have no right whatsoever when they make a purchase at a sale. This is incorrect. Whether it is a regular sale, or a discounted sale, the goods bought must be of reasonably good quality. If these turns out to be defective, then the client has every right to demand a replacement or a refund. Terms and conditions on the bill, saying "No exchange and no refund" are not legally enforceable, unless that was a sale of defective goods, and you were clearly told so at the time of purchase, or your attention drawn to the fact at the time of payment.