Consumer body draws up list of guidelines


A SET of draft guidelines on the display of sale prices, advertising and the use of gift vouchers by retailers has been drawn up by the National Consumer Agency (NCA).

The guidelines recommend that no time limit be applied for redeeming gift vouchers, and no restrictions be placed on using them during sale times and other promotions. The guidelines say shops should be flexible in dealing with gift vouchers.

"Businesses benefit significantly from the gift voucher scheme. They have immediate use of the money paid upfront to purchase these vouchers. They also have the guarantee that consumers will have to give them their custom in order to redeem the vouchers," the agency said.

Some stores have been criticised for setting inadequate expiry dates on vouchers and refusing to redeem them after the expiry date.

In the event of a shop closing, the guidelines state adequate notice should be given to customers to allow them to redeem vouchers. They state customers are entitled to a cash refund where a product is faulty, and it is "not acceptable" to issue a credit note or gift voucher unless the customer voluntarily accepts it.

In cases where shops advertise price reductions, the NCA recommends the goods should have been on sale at the higher price for 28 successive days in the previous three-month period.

Exceptions could be made for certain stock such as perishable goods, seasonal products and stock being cleared which had been already reduced in price.

The agency says it would like to see an end to post-promotion pricing, where traders advertise a price with the claim that it's a special promotion for a limited time. "Some retailers extend the special offers beyond the advertised deadline. In some instances, it can run for indefinite periods," the agency states. "The fact that the specified time limits are often extended suggests that these practices are misleading and that the traders are not acting in good faith."

The guidelines say that the term "closing down sale" should never be used unless a store is actually closing. Traders should indicate the date when the store is due to shut down.

The guidelines caution against aggressive practices such as extended guarantees whereby customers are encouraged to pay large sums of money to extend a product guarantee by a few years.

Consumers are often not told of their rights under EU regulations and the Sales of Goods and Supply of Services Act which may cover the repair or replacement of a product after the guarantee expires.

The guidelines also say that consumers should not be misled by terms such as "faux leather" and "leather match" and say that such "obscure" descriptions could lead consumers to think the products were leather, instead of a mix of synthetic materials and leather.

The guidelines have been produced to help retailers comply with the new Consumer Protection Act 2007. While they are not legally enforceable, they have a recognised status under the Act, and they can be submitted in evidence in court proceedings.

The NCA has invited retailers to give their views on the draft guidelines before October 6th.

Ann Fitzgerald, chief executive of the NCA, urged all traders to read the document carefully. "It is important that all sections of the retail sector buy into these guidelines to ensure that they meet fully their obligations to consumers."

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