Chris Moerdyk

Sometimes consumers can be utter idiots

2012-01-23 07:31

I don’t know about you, but I was absolutely amazed that despite the Gauteng e-tolling being put on hold, at least 200 000 motorists actually registered with Sanral for their e-tags.

Now, this might sound like a lot of people, but it is actually less than five percent of the total number that should be registering. I have to ask myself though - what on earth were they thinking? Right from the word go this project has been a doubtful starter, what with the massive outcry from all sorts of people and organisations not to mention Cosatu's anger at the idea.

So, why were these 200 000 people so keen to get registered? Are they just very rich and couldn’t care less how much it’s going to cost them so they just got their secretaries or companies to register for them so there wouldn’t be a hassle later on?

Or, are they just typically complacent and apathetic consumers who just do what they are told even if it costs them a lot of money and inconvenience?

Are they the same consumers, I wonder, who meekly submit to having their till slips checked by security people before they are allowed to leave stores such as Makro and Incredible Connection?

Think about it. If you look at theft from shops and chain stores, by far the majority of this is from staff, good receiving clerks and so forth. I remember some years ago the average figure for what the retail trade calls "shrinkage" due to crooked staff, was well into the 90%. Which means that actual shoplifting accounts for a minimal amount and in many stores the products have tags that sound alarms if someone tries to walk out without paying.

Yet, in order to prevent staff from stealing, particularly the practice of cashiers letting friends and family through till points with a few extra goodies in their shopping carts, these shops decided to check each and every customer.

In effect what they are doing is telling their customers to prove they are not crooks before they are allowed to leave the building.

I did some research a few years ago outside Makro in Johannesburg and asked customers what they thought about having to stand in a queue to have their till slips checked.

Almost without exception the answer I got was: "Well there’s a lot of crime in this country so we must expect this."

Quite unbelievable. What in fact is happening is that some shops are just taking the easy way out and instead of putting in security systems to prevent staff from stealing they just assume that every customer is a crook until those customers can convince them otherwise.

I know of no other country in the world where this arrogant form of customer denigration takes place.

However, the question I have to ask is this. Should we South African consumers stand up against being ripped off by e-tolling and other idiotic forms of authoritarian revenue generation? Should we South Africans just meekly comply with shops that require us to prove our innocence?

But, an even bigger question is how do we persuade South Africans to stand up against these things without creating the perception that we’re asking them to break the law?

Because unfortunately, far too many of us completely confuse law-abiding protest with a green light to go ahead and break the law. Which is what inevitably happens with strikes.

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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