Battling Dishonest Furniture Retailers

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As it turns out, the furniture industry is amongst the top three when it comes to drawing the most complaints from consumers.

According to a report published in The Straits Times in April, complaints regarding furniture purchases have hit a record high. Statistics from the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) revealed that the consumer watchdog received a total of 1,190 complaints in 2010 a 40% leap from the 867 cases in 2009.

One example highlighted in the ST article is of Mr Wan Kut Lum. The 56-year-old businessman purchased a black synthetic leather sofa costing $2,200, only to find bits of the upholstery flaking off after a mere 3 months.

A quick search online reveals grievances from other consumers on forums such as STOMP and Cozycot – goods have been delivered defective, late with no notice, in the wrong size or colour. Worst of all, the customer is still expected to fork out the full price for the unsatisfactory buying experience.

How have local furniture retailers been able to get away scot-free with such dishonest practices?

The Lemon Law (Or The Lack Of It)

LemonsWhile it sounds like some childish rule out of a kids’ game, the Lemon Law is an important consumer protection law that serves to provide recourse for consumers who have been saddled with defective goods, colloquially known as “lemons” – goods that are not up to mark.

With the Lemon law put in place, sellers will be obliged to repair or replace the defective items for consumers. This is already a practice in several countries such as America, put in place in countries such as America (especially for the automotive industry), Canada and Germany.

However, such a law doesn’t exist in Singapore at the moment. As such, a retailer can choose to “argue their way out and say that they have no obligation to replace defective goods”. (ST)

Often times, retailers play the blame game and push responsibility to other suppliers or service providers, leaving the consumer unable to redress their grievances.

As such, the implementation of the lemon law would be timely now considering that furniture-related complaints are becoming increasingly common, as with mobile phones and other electronic products purchases.

And here comes the bright side, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) has finished gathering public feedback – the Lemon Law Taskforce was set up in 2008 – and will place the Lemon law up for consideration in Parliament by the end of this year.

Consumer Rights

While consumers can always file a complaint with CASE or go through the Small Claims Tribunal, it’s always good to know the current laws and rights that protect you, the customer.

Sales of Goods Act (SGA) (Chapter 393 Section 15A)

The right to terminate a contract for a breach of condition is a general feature of Singapore’s contractual law. In the consumer’s case, should you receive goods that are not of satisfactory quality as expressed or implied to the seller, you’re entitled to reject the goods unless “the breach is so slight that it would be unreasonable for the buyer to reject them”.

S14 (2A): “Goods are of satisfactory quality if they meet the standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, taking account of any description of the goods, the price (if relevant) and all the other relevant circumstances.”

Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (Chapter 52A Section 4(d) and SECOND SCHEDULE)

According to S4(d), it is unfair practice for a trader to

  • Do, omit, or say anything that will mislead the consumer
  • Make a false claim
  • Take advantage of a consumer who is unable to protect his own interests or understand the true nature of the transaction
  • Do any of the 20 unfair practices listed in the Second Schedule of the Act

These practices consist mostly of misrepresentations of goods and services, such as selling secondhand products as new ones, passing off fake or sub-par products as that of a higher quality, having features that it does not have, etc.

The CPFTA Act also protects consumers who’re taken advantage of under circumstances such as pressure selling.

Good Practices for the Consumer

Sales

    1. Always check the company’s return, exchange and refund policy before purchase
    2. Inspect your furniture upon delivery
    3. Should there be any obvious defects, always remember that you’re entitled to rejecting them and withholding payment

There are, however, a handful of furniture retailers here who’ve implemented their own Lemon law. BEDS.sg is a prime example of ‘power to the people’, with no deposit collected upon placement of orders online and payment only collected upon delivery.

When purchasing from such companies, customers have the freedom to reject goods when they arrive at their doorstep without any cost borne and only pay for what they find acceptable or desirable.

Now if only more furniture retailers thought that way; the industry wouldn’t come out tops for all the wrong reasons.

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