Consumers beware!
The right to a free gift

Pushpa Girimaji

On Republic Day and a few days before and after, many shops had announced special discounts, prize schemes and lotteries, besides buy-one-get-one schemes. Drawn by them, I bought a gas stove on the promise that I would get an electric rice cooker as a free gift. I was told that the cooker was out of stock and would be delivered to my address within a week. However, it never came. When I made an inquiry, I was told that the scheme was applicable only for purchases bought on January 26 and since I had bought the stove the next day, I was not entitled to it. Now, this was not told to me and I was clearly given an assurance that I would get the free gift. In fact, I would not have bought the stove at all in such a hurry, but for the rice cooker. Now what is my option? Do I have the right to claim the promised rice cooker?

You certainly have the right because you have been specifically promised that you would get the free gift. If the scheme was meant only for purchases on January 26, then you should have been told about. By promising the gift and then not giving it, the retailer and the manufacturer (if the scheme was on behalf of the manufacturer) are both guilty of unfair trade practice and you can lodge a complaint against them before the consumer court. In addition to the gift, you can also ask for compensation for the harassment caused to you and the cost of litigation. For your benefit, let me quote a somewhat similar case decided by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

Here, the controversy centred around the scheme "Videocon Diwali Pathaka Ek Mein Char Ka Dhamaka," advertised by the manufacturer, under which every purchaser of the television set got a scratch card and the gift indicated on the card. On November 19, 2003, the complainant purchased a television set and scratched the card given along with it by the retailer and to his pleasant surprise, it said "5 gm of gold!" However, when he made the claim, Videocon International, Aurangabad, rejected it, saying that the scheme was valid only from September 26 to October 31. Since he had not bought the set during this period, he was not entitled to the prize. The dealer, however, stated that he had been instructed by the manufacturer to dispose off the stock along with the scratch card and it was only on those directions had he given the scratch card to the customer, promising a gift.

After hearing all the parties, the National Commission came to the conclusion that the dealer had clearly promised the gift in the scratch card and had accordingly given him the card with the purchase. Whether this act of his was under the authority of the manufacturer or not was irrelevant to the complaint here. To deny the prize to the consumer now would tantamount to punishing him for the confusion, if any, between the manufacturer and the dealer. Besides, the retailer was a dealer of the manufacturer and competent to implement the relevant scheme on their behalf. The consumer is, therefore, entitled to the promised quantity of gold or its value, the Commission held. (Baby Anmol Mahajan vs Videocon International Limited and Ors, RP No 145 of 2007, decided on 18-11-2013)

How genuine are the free gift offers being made by retailers these days? Can one trust them?

Sometimes, to get rid of unsold stock nearing the expiry date, manufacturers come up with "buy-one-get-one-free" offer. Sometimes, such offers may also be part of a promotional scheme, when a manufacturer is introducing a new product. Or it might be a marketing gimmick to sell a failed product. Or to get rid of seasonal clothes with the changing season. You need to consider all these carefully before making the purchase.