Unlike the hand-written bills of yesteryears, today most shopping bills are computer generated. I have nothing against such bills, provided they are easy to read and decipher and are consumer friendly. But most of them do not fall in the category of consumer-friendly bills.
First of all, they are printed on these narrow strips of paper and the font size used is small. And there is no line spacing between items.
I also find that retailers are miserly with the ink used on the printer — the printing is not always very legible. Many of them just fade away after a couple of months, making it impossible to make out what was printed.
Do not let these consumer-unfriendly bills discourage you from scrutinising them because there could well be mistakes in billing or computing — either intended or unintended.
This reminds me of a case decided by a District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum in Bangalore last year in response to a complaint filed by a consumer who diligently scrutinised his bills and found mistakes.
According to complainant Durga Mohan, he had found the store charging Rs 2 to Rs 3 more on the MRP on a couple of occasions and when this was pointed out, the excess amount was returned to him, saying that it was a typographical error.
Then on one occasion, when he bought some groceries amounting to Rs 1,006, he found that he had been charged Rs 84 for a packet of sugar against the MRP of Rs 23.
He also found that even though the packets mentioned the price as inclusive of all taxes, he had been charged VAT/Tax at 4 per cent and 12.5 per cent.
However, when he complained, instead of apologising and correcting the mistake, the store said they would get back to him the next day but never did, forcing him to eventually file a consumer complaint.
Usually, consumer courts are quite miserly in their computation of compensation and they barely use the provision in the Consumer Protection Act to award punitive damages. But in this case, the Bangalore District Forum not only awarded a compensation of Rs 25,000 but imposed punitive damages to the tune of Rs 25,000 on the store.
The inaccuracy in the bill was bad enough but here, even after it was pointed out, the store did not make amends. So much so that the consumer was forced to visit repeatedly in search of redress and even then they failed to resolve the complaint.
This constituted deficiency in service, the Forum held. (Durga Mohan Vs Smart Retail Pvt Ltd, Complaint No 2659 of 2008, decided on May 29, 2009)
So while it is the responsibility of the retailer to ensure accurate billing and also respond with alacrity to complaints of incorrect billing, consumers would also do well to scrutinise their bills and ensure that there are no mistakes.
R.S. Sood: I bought rice from a supermarket recently and found it full of insects. I want to return it but do not have the bill. What can I do?
Answer: While a bill is a definite proof of purchase, in this case you can still insist on the store giving you a refund or a replacement on the basis of the price sticker mentioning the name of the store. The retailer cannot refuse to take the bad stuff back. After all, he is guilty of selling sub-standard, defective and unsafe food.
Having said, I would suggest that in future, always keep the bills safe. You never know when you will need them.
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