Buyer beware: Faulty products and obstructive sales staff combine to make shopping a risky business

Defective goods sold as regular products are a growing threat, said Eleni Goulielmou of the Greek Quality of Life Consumer Union (EKPOIZO). «We get numerous complaints, involving new products at that. For example, faulty mobile phones that don’t work, and often purchased at a very high price. We have had complaints from consumers who confirmed that there is a problem with the mobile they just bought. The moment they return it to the store, the assistants – obviously well schooled – refuse to refund it, claiming that it might have got damp, have fallen on the ground or other such cheap excuses,» said Goulielmou. According to the law, as long the guarantee is in effect, the store employee is obliged to take back the defective product and attempt, initially, to repair it. If this is not feasible, they must replace it, and if there is no replacement the money must be refunded. Unfortunately, none of this is automatic. To have these legal obligations met requires considerable insistence on the part of the buyer, naturally enough at a considerable cost in time, money and peace of mind. At the same time, sales staff and companies also conceal an important development: On the basis of a new EU directive, which is in force in Greece, guarantees on all products have been doubled from one year to two. That this is not stated by sales staff (or is not written in the guarantee) does not mean it cannot be invoked by consumers, since it has been enacted in European and Greek law, Goulielmou noted. Defective products What should people do if they buy a defective product? The first thing to do is to write to the company and its representatives. At the same time, it would be a good idea to make the complaint known to a consumer organization. The consumer should address his complaint to the parent company – this is a particularly important point – as Greek representatives show a certain lack of sensitivity. By contrast, parent companies reply immediately and usually respond to the consumer’s demands. Some consumer organizations act on consumers’ behalf, but only in cases where the consumer is a member. But the problem of useless products is not merely an individual affair. There are governmental responsibilities and political responsibilities. The legislation lays down that a store owner who does not conform to his obligations is punishable by the withdrawal of his permit. Misleading advertising But, according to EKPOIZO, the competent ministry does not intervene even in open-and-shut cases of cheating. «It does not carry out its responsibilities. What it usually does is play the role of postman. When it receives a complaint, it replies with excuses and life goes on. If we insist, it tells us to take the case to court… Basically, it doesn’t play its political role.» The much-touted Ministry of Development «does not want to tangle with the market.» Misleading advertising is another trap for consumers. But how does one define misleading? Goulielmou says the law defines it as advertising or presenting a product in such a way as to affect the economic behavior of consumers, without it corresponding to reality. A typical example of misleading advertising is that of slimming centers when they promise weight loss of 10 kilos within as many days. A sign of how deceptive these promises are is the fact that the contracts for slimming centers which are signed by clients include a condition stating that the slimming center bears no responsibility for the result. Misleading advertising is also used for laptop computers when it refers to certain capabilities they supposedly possess, without saying that to activate these options, the purchase of additional hardware is necessary. Buyers realize this only when they try to activate them. Nikos Tsemberlidis from the Consumers’ Protection Center (KEPKA) gives another example. A company that advertises ring tones for cell phones says that each SMS costs 1 euro. But it doesn’t say that each musical piece requires three SMS, therefore 3 euros. Normally, the Greek Association of Advertising Companies is charged with the enforcement of proper behavior in advertising. Consumer bodies allege, however, that it confines itself to responding only when the interests of its members are hurt, or when there are arguments between two or more companies, and so on. Ilias Kikilias, from the National Center for Social Research (EKKE), notes that besides misleading advertising, there is the problem of dubious advertising which belittles women, children and ethnicities. «It’s not a simple issue, since advertising today shapes public opinion and culture.» A commercial today may play a more important role than a book. «Advertising in Greece is not regulated; there is no public debate. There should be a consumer forum,» he said. Unfortunately, the National Radio and Television Council, the mass media watchdog, does not have any substantial control either. The equivalent body in France, for example, watches and records all advertisements on a 24-hour basis and intervenes accordingly. In Greece, unfortunately, the inhabitants are defenseless, bombarded by advertising messages of dubious quality, taste and chiefly, veracity.