Watch out for the delivery costs before forking out your hard-earned cash for big-ticket items

2013-11-05 00:00

WHEN buying a big-ticket item like a fridge or furniture, it is important to find out about delivery costs before signing a credit agreement and forking out your hard-earned cash.

A quick Witness Crusaders survey of delivery fees charged by several furniture retailers in Durban has revealed that these can range from a reasonable flat fee of R200 to a whopping 10% of the purchase price, even if you live within 10 km of the store.

So, a R25 000 lounge suite could set you back a further R2 500 to get it delivered a few kilometres away.

If you are buying on credit, there is a strong tendency for some retailers to bundle the fee into the credit agreement, which means you also get to pay interest on the R2 500.

The survey was prompted by a reader, Cecilia Barton, who learnt this expensive lesson when she recently wanted to buy a R6 000 TV display unit at Morkels in Pietermaritzburg and have it delivered to her home exactly 10 km away.

Barton was shocked when the manager told her the delivery fee varied according to the cost of the furniture at a charge of 10% of the purchase price.

“I told them they were crazy to charge me R600 to travel 10 km. To which the store manager replied that it was the policy of Morkels. However, she said she will do me a favour and only charge me R350,” Barton said.

Barton then advised the store manager that she would collect the unit to avoid the delivery fee, only to be told that she would be charged R150 and would have to collect it from the warehouse.

Barton was in disbelief.

“If I paid the advertised R6 000, the goods are then mine. How can they then charge me an extra R150 to collect my own goods?”

But the store manager insisted that it was Morkel’s policy to levy the fee.

“I refused to pay the R150 and asked if she is happy to see me walk away for the price of R150 and not [receive] the R6 000 she could rather be making. She just shrugged her shoulders,” Barton said.

“We did not purchase the unit as a matter of principle.”

I asked Morkels chief executive Colin Bresler about the incident and what the JD Group’s policy is regarding delivery fees and customer collections. The group owns Morkels.

“It is our policy to charge a delivery fee on a customer’s account in the event that the goods purchased are delivered through the use of transport provided by the JD Group,” Bresler said.

“The delivery fee rates applicable to each chain within the JD Group are determined by the relevant chain executive and must be added to all deals where the company delivers the goods on the customer’s behalf, irrespective of whether the goods were purchased for cash or on credit.

“In compliance with our regulatory obligations, we disclose all costs chargeable in our advertising material,” Bresler said.

Regarding the R150 fee, Bresler said it seemed the manager had confused the delivery fee with a handling fee, which is charged when a customer makes an extraordinary request to collect from the warehouse rather than the store.

However, Barton said she had not asked to collect from the warehouse.

Bresler added that the incident would be investigated and appropriate action would be taken where necessary.

“This incident is not the norm or the epitome of our values and we would like to tender our sincere apologies,” Bresler said.

“We would like to emphasise that the JD Group remains totally committed to serving customers in a diligent and transparent manner, and that we will take swift remedial action on any reported incidents of non-adherence to the letter and spirit of the Consumer Protection Act Number 68 of 2008.”

In the end, the store did offer to waive the handling fee.

Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman advocate Neville Melville said stores were required under common law and under section 49 of the Consumer Protection Act to disclose upfront any unusual terms and conditions of a sale, which would include the handling fee.

Interestingly, Barton noticed a few weeks after the incident that the price of the same television unit had been reduced to R5 000 on sale, so she saved a lot more than just the handling fee by walking away from the deal.

The lesson here is, vote with your wallet if you are unhappy with a service or price.

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