2004-10-01 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Audrey Pheffer
Audrey Pheffer Not only was “Shop Around” a hit for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, it is sage advice for consumers. This is just one sound piece of advice, among many necessary steps, when purchasing goods and services. The Consumer Federation of America and the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators survey various government consumer protection offices every year to see which purchases and transactions generate the largest number of consumer complaints. Often topping the list are automotive transactions such as auto sales, auto repair, and auto leasing. As well, the list often includes home improvement contracts, credit and lending agreements, mail order and retail sales, and recently the purchase of household goods such as furniture, computers, and appliances. That does not necessarily mean that these transactions and purchases need be unpleasant as there are several steps that consumers can take to help ensure that things go smoothly.1

When first considering a purchase, it is a good idea to ask friends or family for recommendations. Their experiences may help you find exactly what you are looking for, or they could help you avoid unnecessary difficulty.

Also, it never hurts to be informed. Before setting foot in the store, you may want to review product safety tests as well as consumer reviews. Consumer Reports’ site at www.consumerreports.com and the Consumer Law Help Manual, available on the New York State Consumer Protection Board’s site at www.consumer. state. ny.us are helpful sources of such information.

You can also review a company’s complaint record at your local Better Business Bureau and your local consumer affairs office. By checking the number of complaints filed, comparing the number of complaints filed to the company’s volume of business, and reviewing the company’s response to the filed complaints, you can get a good idea of the quality of the company’s customer service.

It is important to realize that salespeople generally make commissions. The more sales they make, the higher their commissions, which is why you should make your most important decisions in advance, and with plenty of outside information. Since prices can vary greatly, always be sure to check the prices available through other retailers. Decide what you want and how much you can afford to pay, and do not allow a salesperson to pressure you into making a different decision.

When making a purchase, review the seller’s return and refund polices. Read any contract that you have to sign, and review it thoroughly. Do not sign any contract with blank spaces, and make sure any verbal promises made by the seller are included in the contract.2 Also, be sure to review and retain a copy of the item’s warranties along with the contract and the receipt.

There are more resources available to help you research your purchases. The Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC) offers a free consumer information catalog, which can be ordered by calling 1-800-FED-INFO, or through their website, www.pueblo. gsa.gov. The FCIC’s Consumer Action Website at www.consumeraction.gov also offers a great deal of consumer information.

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