CONSUMERS need to be alert when shopping for a durable leather lounge suite, bearing in mind the different types of leather uppers that furniture manufacturers use to cover products.Lizette Parker complained to me about a “peeling” three-seater New Yorker leather couch that she bought at Mr Price back in 2009 for R7 999. Parker said she had for several years kept the couch in a lounge that was not often used, only to find within weeks, in 2015, when she moved it to a space where it was frequently used that the “leather” started to peel off.Parker, who had kept the suite’s “genuine leather uppers” label, approached Mr Price to ask for a refund, feeling she was duped into believing she had bought a genuine full-grain or top-grain leather couch, when in fact the couch was covered in bi-cast leather. Bi-cast leather is a piece of split hide leather with a polyurethane (plastic) coating.“Leather is supposed to last forever and get better over time as with my other leather furniture. I bought this couch in good faith that it will also be durable and wear in well,” Parker said.“We discovered that the couch was not genuine leather as stated on the tag and advertised by Mr Price at the time, but a plastic coated leather. It is looking very unsightly and was peeling off rapidly, [it’s] nearly unusable,” Parker said. Parker said she e-mailed Mr Price customer support to complain.“Their legal representative Taryn Moore took a year to get back to me. I sent photographs of the peeling material to support this and have told them that I have the ‘genuine leather uppers’ tag which was attached to the couch. They refuse to acknowledge that this was misrepresentation of their product.”Mr Price Home national operations manager Cheryl Collier e-mailed Parker advising that the retailer had introduced bi-cast leather into its range but following concerns about “stability” it no longer sold the product.“The treatment and policy of selling bi-cast leather varies across the globe. In South Africa, bi-cast leather is able to be sold as genuine leather as the bi-cast process involves coating a piece of split hide leather with a polyurethane coating to give it a “bi-cast” effect, a consistent high sheen surface, rolled on like a film/foiling process when applied to the hide,” Collier said.Parker said the retailer had refused to refund her or replace the couch because it was outside the one-year guarantee period, but it had offered a 20% voucher refund. “The range comprised split hide, genuine leather uppers treated with a polyurethane coating, commonly called bi-cast leather. While it is in fact genuine leather, we highlight that it is different to 100% top grain leather, which we did not represent nor claim. At the time our practices were consistent with industry norms,” he said.He said the range was discontinued in 2010.“We acknowledge receipt of the customer’s complaint in December 2015. Communication has been ongoing since in attempts to resolve the issue. In early 2016, we attempted to contact the customer by e-mail and telephone with no success,” he said.He said further efforts were made to resolve the matter but the consumer’s request for a full refund was declined.“The customer does not acknowledge that she has had use of the product for several years and in terms of the warranty period does not have a valid claim,” De Haas said.Parker was disappointed with the retailer’s stance. “I believed the couch to be genuine leather when I purchased it. Nowhere on the tag does it state bi-cast leather. In fact, I don’t think consumers know what bi-cast leather is. I would never have purchased this couch had I known that it was not genuine leather.”When it comes to buying leather goods take nothing at face value as even leather experts say it is not always easy to spot the difference. Ask the retailer for confirmation in writing that a product is either top or full grain leather so that you will have recourse if it proves to be an inferior product.