Beware! Ombud warns consumers about five online retailers
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Beware! Ombud warns consumers about five online retailers

When a company takes a customer’s money and promises to deliver the goods a few weeks later, and then fails to do so - for many months, refuses to refund them, and then ignores them, they’re asking for trouble. When they do that to enough people, the trouble, when it comes, is big. As in naming and shaming by an Ombudsman.

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That’s what happened last week to five companies operating online businesses.

They are, AF-FSL Glass Distributors, Benna Bok, 4 Cities Removers, Appliance House, and Milo Design.

I wrote a news story based on the Ombud’s warning, and Milo Designs' owner Marco Wood emailed me to ask why he hadn’t been contacted for comment.

“Yes, we have experienced a major backlog, yet we have a store, clients can come to lay a complaint and to see that we do not scam them," he said.

“We have been assisting the ombudsman with the complaints but they terminated all of our complaints and said we are not co-operating with them. Kindly investigate the matter before doing harm to a business which has always delivered. Yes, months later but we have never not delivered. It would be much appreciated if you could rectify your mistake,” said Wood.

Knowing that the Ombud would never put out such a warning without very good reason, I contacted Magauta Mphathele about her office’s dealings with that company.

She sent me details about 12 Milo Designs complaints from customers around the country - mostly Gauteng, who had placed orders, mostly for bedroom furniture, from the company’s Facebook page.

Almost all of them paid them off in terms of a lay-by agreement, but didn’t get the goods. Most still haven’t.

And they paid in full - R10,000 to R15,000 long ago. One woman last April, another last February, another last August.

The Ombud’s file notes say the same for every one of those complainants - the company failed to co-operate over the course of several months.

“As you can see we have tried with Milo Designs and we have not been able to get them to cooperate. It is only after several attempts to engage with a supplier that we decide to close cases and refer them to the National Consumer Commission,” she said.

In addition to the dozen cases the Ombud sent me relating to Milo Designs, two people contacted me directly to complain about their experiences with the company.

Just last week, Anathi Ngxoxo told me she bought not one but three bedroom suites to the value of R26,000 on lay-by in November 2017, making the final payment last Aug - that’s EIGHT months ago. 

“To this day I have not received my stuff,” she said. 

“I have tried calling, visiting the shop, I went the lawyer route, contacted NCC and consumer OMBUD, but all I get is promises from this company.”

Tshwarelo Makgale of North West told me she paid Milo Designs R12,000 for a bedroom suite, also making final payment by last August, and she too has yet to get her goods. 

She was so desperate she paid for a flight to Durban to get to Milo Design’s Springfield shop, but neither the owner or the salesman were there, so it was a wasted trip.

 So much for “Clients can come to lay a complaint and to see that we do not scam them."

So what went wrong?

Owner Marco Wood said he started the business a few years ago in a garage, and within months it “blew into something beyond my control”.  

He had to move; it was expensive and they had courier problems. 

“In all honesty, we pushed orders back of clients that weren’t complaining, hoping we’d get their items out before they complained,” he said.

“Most we did get out, a few did not go as planned. Yes, we could have stopped orders then and tried to get up to date, but with the move we needed the capital,” Marco said.

“I honestly thought we would catch up quickly with the factory."

And then he went through the 14 cases, saying three of them had since received their goods, some were ready for delivery, and for the rest he promised delivery by the end of the month.

"Anathi would get her three suites by Monday, I intend to follow up to see if those promises were kept," he said.

As for the company’s no refund policy, a supplier can’t take payment, promise delivery in six weeks, and then just not deliver for months on end. That’s preposterous!

It’s also illegal -  Section 19 of the CPA says a supplier must refund a consumer if they are unable to deliver on the agreed date and time.

So, Milo Designs has had their right of response and Ombud Magauta Mphahlele has said she’ll issue a second media statement if the company resolves the complaints and makes a commitment not to repeat the same conduct.

The advice? Before you do business with an online retailer, check if it is registered with the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman – the list can be found on their website: www.cgso.org.za.

Check if there are previous complaints against the company and how they have dealt with them. Also, check online reviews from previous customers on their Facebook pages and websites such as HelloPeter.com.

Also read: If things fall apart - are you covered?

To contact Wendy, go to her Facebook page and click on the send email tab.

In case you missed any of the past Consumerwatch shows, find them below:

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