Consumer takes store up on its promise of lifetime quality guarantee on the packaging

2014-09-09 00:00

WHEN manufacturers promise lifetime guarantees they shouldn’t be surprised when astute consumers take them at their word and years later demand that the promise be kept.

Such was the case of Yusuf Abdool, who in 2010 purchased five measuring tapes from Makro in Pietermaritzburg, specifically because of the strong branding of the store’s Mastercraft range, advertised on packaging as being “lifetime quality tools”.

“There were cheaper tapes in other stores and we always bought Mastercraft thinking it’s a reputable make. All our tools in the factory are Mastercraft brand,” Abdool said.

If the “lifetime quality tools” pay-off line was not strong enough it was backed up by a “lifetime, no-nonsense, swop-out guarantee”, also advertised on the packaging, which Abdool kept on file.

But only consumers who took time to turn the packaging over would have noticed the small print on the back, as there was no indication on the front of the pack that the guarantee would be limited.

While the back of the pack also boldly promised: “our range of Mastercraft products meet or exceed the industry quality standard to support our lifetime quality guarantee”, in small print at the bottom were the words: “if this product proves defective during normal use due to faulty materials or workmanship call …”

Since Abdool did not even notice the “disclaimer”, which in my view did not expressly exclude any other faults with the product, when some of the tapes snapped and the tips came off recently, he went back to Makro to ask for replacements on the strength of the “lifetime guarantee”.

Abdool said a staff member at Makro agreed with him when he asked for the item to be replaced under the guarantee, but the store’s customer care department flatly refused.

Massmart senior business manager Craige Pershouse responded via e-mail to Abdool’s escalated complaint: “If the return spring has worn, that’s not a manufacturing or material defect. Components subject to wear and tear are not covered by the guarantee, only if the product proves defective during normal use due to faulty materials and workmanship — we state this clearly on the website, as well as the packaging.”

So much for the “no-nonsense swop out”.

Abdool and I both tended to agree regarding the packaging’s flimsy disclaimer and frankly most people who shop in store do not go and read online small print before buying.

Abdool said he felt the “no-nonsense lifetime guarantee swop out” promise was misleading.

“It is written in simple English and I don’t think it could mean anything else but what it states. The value is not much but the principle of the whole matter upset me. No negotiation from them just no, that’s it,” Abdool said.

I raised the complaint with Massmart’s head office and asked communication manager Annaleigh Vallie about the “lifetime guarantee” promise and the fact that Abdool felt he had been misled.

Vallie said the company has contacted Abdool and sent him replacement tape measures, which I thought is commendable.

“We understand the concerns you have raised and the Consumer Protection Act is helpful in instances such as these. Specifically, the act points to a guarantee against any defects in material or workmanship. It does not guarantee products that are damaged or altered through misuse, abuse, accident, neglect, modification, mishandling and general wear and tear,” Vallie said.

However, in my view this was not an issue regarding the six-month CPA implied warranty that applies to goods sold to consumers — the Mastercraft “lifetime guarantee” seemed to promise far more than this and in this case preceded the CPA anyway.

“It is generally accepted practise for suppliers to put the disclaimer information at the back of the packaging,” Vallie said.

“However, we will look into the feasibility of moving this disclaimer, keeping in mind that customers usually refer to the back of the pack for detailed information,” Vallie said.

Vallie said Makro and its buyer have no record of any similar complaints.

• Send your consumer complaints to

Lyse Comins at consumer@3i.co.za

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