Dubai: The thing about a shopping spree, or retail therapy, is that it can either turn out to be a therapeutic session or end up a nightmare, depending on many factors such as good salesperson, efficient service, quality goods and committed after-sales service. But these factors don’t always add up to a positive experience as faced with poor service, lax after-sales, defective products or worse, fraud, a shopping expedition can crush the spirits of even the most determined consumer.
With the Christmas and New Year festivites having segued into the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, the shopping season is well and truly under way. When visiting malls, consumers would expect their money’s worth in terms of service and products – and rightly so – as government officials are determined to uphold consumer rights and product satisfaction as of paramount importance.
Speaking to Gulf News, Abdullah Al Shehi, Director of Consumer Protection Division at the Department of Economic Development (DED) in Dubai, explained that the rights of consumers adopted by the authority follow the guidelines as stated by the United Nations, which among other things focuses on protecting the consumer from products, production processes, and services that may be hazardous to a person’s health or safety.
“Before making any purchase, consumers have the right to be provided with all the facts pertaining to it, and they should be able to choose amongst various types of products and services with competitive prices that include warranties,” he said.
Al Shehi pointed out that the DED’s role is to ensure that the interests of consumers are always protected and represented at official and non-official entities. The opinion of consumers, Al Shehi said, must at all times be heard.
“Whether the product is related to food, clothing, health care or education, consumers have the right to be fairly compensated in case of a [complaint] and have the right to lodge a complaint with the courts if they face any type of injury that was caused by faulty goods, harmful practices or unsatisfactory services,” Al Shehi said.
It is important to state here that the rights of consumers are not limited to transactions made in retail outlets; the rights also extend to online purchases made from Dubai-based companies.
“Consumers are entitled to a full refund if the product they bought is an imitation of a trademarked product or is fraudulent. They are also entitled to a full refund if the repair or replacement does not meet consumer requirements, and it is important to remember that goods should be returned within a reasonable time frame,” he said.
Having said that there are circumstances in which consumers should not expect refunds or replacement, particularly in cases where they have either changed their mind, found the same good for a cheaper price elsewhere, or were notified in advance of defects or faults in the item. Complaints also cannot be lodged if customers damaged the goods by using them in the wrong way, and service providers cannot be held responsible of poor outcomes if the consumer insisted on a service being provided in a particular way but did not like the end-result.
When it comes to filing a complaint, there is a protocol and it would help consumers if they followed it. Before filing a complaint at the DED, Dubai, consumers should approach the retailer or service provider first, said Al Shehi. “They should first try to settle the issue amicably with a member of [retail] staff. But in the case when a satisfactory settlement is not reached, the consumer can then approach the DED to file a complaint.” Unsatisfied customers can contact the DED through calling ‘Ahlan Dubai’ on 600 54 5555.
He noted that once the DED receives a complaint, a reference number is sent to the complainant’s mobile via SMS, informing them of the date and time to visit the DED’s office with all relevant documents, particularly the original invoice, to discuss the complaint.
“In the beginning, the consumer had to come to the DED in person. But over time, the DED has facilitated the process through options like Ahlan Dubai and the facility to submit complaints online through our website,” said Al Shehi.
Over the years, the number of complaints has slightly increased on an annual basis due to the increased level of consumer awareness. In total, the DED have handled 13,770 complaints, with an average turnaround time of four working days.
He further explained that retailers are not the only ones with responsibilities to carry out, as consumers also have a part to play.
“Shoppers should understand the product’s warrantees, method of storage, expiration date, and know how to use it properly. People should always remember to request a receipt from the seller and ensure that the details on the receipt are correct,” he said.
However, the DED cannot assist consumers if the product or service has been bought from unlicensed retailers, such as street vendors.
Case studies for consumer protection report
1. Ryan Bruss, an IT professional, bought a toy car from e-commerce platform Souq.com, which turned out to have been falsely advertised as the specifications did not match the description on the website. According to the online shop’s policy, items can only be replaced if the complaint was made three days after the item was delivered. It was then that Bruss then proceeded to file a complaint with the Department of Economic Development (DED). Following the investigation, officials agreed that the stipulated return period of any commercial establishment does not apply if the product is found to be falsely advertised. The customer had all the required documents and within three days, received a refund, as well as a gift of store credits.
2. A customer, who declined to be named, bought a designer handbag as a gift that was advertised on BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) — a social media platform. After purchasing it and inspecting it further at home, he realised that it was a fake, but was unable to contact the vendor for a refund. After visiting the DED, he was informed that the authorities cannot take any action if consumers are involved in a purchase activity with a fake company, or with a firm which has no presence in the local market. When making online purchases, consumers should confirm that the business is registered with the DED and that its website is registered under the .ae domain name.
3. Pinky Khatai and her husband Niranjan were at a shopping centre, when they were approached by a man to fill out a form and enter a raffle draw with the chance of winning an all-expense paid holiday. After receiving a call that they had ‘won’, the couple were then told that they had to attend a 90-minute presentation in order to claim their prize. To their dismay, it was a scam as they were pressured into handing over Dh16,000. “It was a huge amount of money, and I had to suffer for a few months. It really affected me, our daily life with lots of stress and unnecessary follow-ups, unnecessary tension,” said Niranjan. In the UAE what holds weight is the written contract and not the spoken word. Hence, caution should be exercised prior to signing any document.
4. Maria Cerdan ordered five boxes of ceramic tiles from a retail outlet in Dubai, but when she got home and opened the cardboard cartons, realised that most of the tiles at the bottom were cracked and broken. Cerdan called the shop several times to complain but her requests for a refund or exchange were denied. “I was shocked as to how rudely the salesman acted, and he blamed me for breaking the pieces. It was almost impossible to talk to him in a reasonable manner, and if it weren’t for the DED, I would have lost my money.” After filing a complaint with the authorities, her money was returned in the same week.
5. The largest amount reclaimed by a complaint was Dh2 million, after a consumer lodged a complaint with the DED against an interior design company in Dubai. The complaint was filed after the company failed to comply with the contract between the two parties. Although it typically takes a maximum of four days to close the investigation, this particular case took the the DED one week, as it required a lot of documents to verify the complaint. During the investigation, authorities found that the work commissioned did not meet the contract conditions and ultimately was a violation of consumer’s rights. According to the Consumer Protection Law, “the refund or exchange of most commercial items and some of the services are part of consumer rights”.
Types of complaints categorised
Non-compliance with agreement: 6,458 at 47%
Defective products: 2,938 at 21%
Cash refund: 890 at 6%
Non-compliance with warranty: 846 at 6%
Others: 829 at 6%
Fraud: 609 at 4%
Adding extra charges: 452 at 3%
Non-compliance with declared prices: 441 at 3%
Exchange: 307 at 2%
Consumer’s complaints according to type:
Textile and other necessities: 1,558