Are you being charged unreasonably high prices for goods after the looting?

Are you being charged unreasonably high prices for goods after the looting?

Price gouging - if you can prove it, here’s what to do, says Consumerwatch’s Wendy Knowler.

Price gouging

As the people of this province know all too well, last week’s extraordinary looting of not only supermarkets but their distribution centres, too, led to chronic food shortages, and in some cases, crazy prices.

I had people emailing me about tomatoes selling for R200 a pocket, toilet paper R180 for a six-pack, bread loaves selling for twice the normal price, and more.

Without till receipts as proof of current prices versus previous prices, there can be no investigation, and that’s what the KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs will require if you lodge a price gouging complaint. 

“Where wrongdoing is found we will not hesitate to take action which may include fines against those businesses,” said MEC Ravi Pillay.

READ MORE: How to get insurance for your looted business with Wendy Knowler

“This cannot be a time for profit-making. Excessive profiteers are warned that the law provides for severe punishment. We will also publish offenders with the consequence of reputational risk.”

The National Consumer Commission has also expressed its outrage at such allegations, because the  Consumer Protection Act makes it a prohibited conduct for a supplier to increase their prices unconscionably, in a way "that does not correlate to an equivalent expense in the cost of providing that service or product"

A supplier who contravenes these regulations can face a fine of up to R1-million or up to 10% of a firm’s annual turnover, or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months.

READ MORE: What really counts as an online purchase? Learn from this Consumerwatch case study

“Wrongdoing" would be retailers suddenly hiking up prices of existing stock in order to exploit the desperation of consumers faced with a food shortage. A retailer who sourced fresh stock at inflated prices and then added their normal profit margin to it, can’t be found guilty of gouging or profiteering.

To report alleged cases of price gouging, email [email protected].

Wendy Knowler explains further how to take action should you be charged unreasonably more for a product because of its demand: 

Expect companies to drop the ball a bit in the coming weeks

Since last March, a lot of companies have used COVID-19 as a justification for less than great customer service. “Please not that many of our staff are working from home.”

That doesn’t cut it anymore.

I anticipate that the looting in Gauteng and mainly KZN last week will also be offered as a reason for service delivery lapses, but that will, to a large extent, be justified.

READ  MORE: Edgars account holders frustrated by unfair extra monthly charges, Wendy Knowler explains

Of course, there will always be those who abuse the extraordinary events of last week; unjustifiably attributing their service delivery failures on the mayhem. But the fact is that about 45,000 Durban businesses have been affected, suffering an estimated R16-billion in stolen stock and damage to infrastructure and equipment.

For close to half of patients in KwaZulu-Natal, their chronic medicine supply has been wiped out -  insulin for diabetes patients, antiretroviral drugs for HIV patients, hypertension drugs, and much more was looted or burnt in the destruction of two depots and a generic drugs plant. So your pharmacy may not be able to source the exact medication you usually take, in the short-term.

It may not even have access to your prescription anymore.

A key warehouse used by Samsung was destroyed and several of the company’s service centres were ransacked during the riots. Director of integrated mobility at Samsung South Africa, Justin Hume, was reported as saying that the plundering of the warehouse could disrupt Samsung’s home appliance product operation. The biggest blow for Samsung was the destruction of several service centres in KZN, affecting its ability to serve customers in the province.

And what about people who were paying off goods via lay-by, goods that have now been destroyed or looted?  

READ MORE: Edgars account chaos: A checklist of how to go about the closure procedure

A spokesman for Pep stores told Consumerwatch that the company was still in the process of finding out how many lay-bys had been completely destroyed.

"If the lay-by has been destroyed, it will be cancelled, and the customer refunded. No customer will be out of pocket due to a destroyed lay-by,” she said. “We are in the process of transferring all lay-by transactions to stores near to customers - this will take some time because it is a manual process.”

If you had something on lay-by with one of the affected stores, you can access it by means of your till slip or ID number.

Contact Wendy

Get in touch with Wendy via her website or her Facebook page. Please note that Wendy is not able to personally respond to every email she receives. If she is able to take up your case, she will contact you directly. Here are other avenues for you to consider.

Listen to more podcasts from Wendy Knowler in the Consumerwatch channel below: 

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