Swank malls, wide choices, irresistible product promotions, disposable incomes and credit cards, what more do you need to go on a shopping binge? Well, I don't want to put a dampener on that shopping, but I would certainly urge you to be an intelligent shopper, a discerning consumer. Because a bad deal could rob you of that pleasure of shopping.
Since information is the key to a good purchase decision, arm yourself with information about the goods you wish to buy. If you are buying home appliances, for example, look at different brands, compare features, after sales service, warranties and price. You also need to look at their energy consumption and safety features. Certain essential household electrical goods such as tungsten filament general service electric lamps (or bulbs), switches, PVC insulated cables, electric iron, immersion water heaters, radiators, multipurpose dry batteries are under mandatory ISI (BIS) certification.
In other words, these goods cannot be sold without the quality certification from the Bureau of Indian Standards. So you need to be aware of that too.
When you are buying packed foods, label reading is a must. The label gives you not just the price, but also important information about the date of packing or manufacture and 'best before' date. Always check this before purchase. You must also examine carefully the 'buy one-get one free' schemes to ensure that the offer is not being made to get rid of food items that are nearing their 'best before' date.
Imported processed foods are coming in large quantities into the country. Remember that laws meant for foods manufactured in India apply to those imported into the country too. In the initial years when these foods began to enter the Indian market, consumers found that food packets nearing the end of their shelf life were being dumped on Indian markets and many of them carried labels in languages not understood by Indians. So the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, ministry of Commerce and Industry issued a notification (in 2001) stipulating that these products must have a valid life of not less than 60 per cent of the original shelf life. Then in 2003, the Union ministry of consumer affairs amended the Standards of Weights and Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules, making it mandatory for all imported packages to carry the label information in Hindi or in English.
If you are shopping for clothes, make sure that you get what you pay for. Look at the label, check the composition of the fabric, wash instructions and ensure that you get what you want. Suppose you wish to buy pure natural silk, you can look for the Silk Mark logo given by the Silk Mark Organization of India. The logo is an artistic depiction of a butterfly with the words 'silk mark' written below. Similarly the wool mark given by the International Wool Secretariat ensures that you are getting pure new wool.
These days, consumer choices are often dictated by the free gifts offered on the purchase of a product. My suggestion is, do not let the free gift sway your choice. In fact whenever there is such a temptation, try and find answers to some of these questions: Is the free gift really free? Did the manufacturer jack up the price of the product some months prior to the offer of the 'free gift'? Do I need the gift being offered? Is the quality of the gift good? Does it come with a warranty?
You must also know that the offering of gifts, prizes or other items with the intention of not giving them or creating an impression that it is being offered free when the cost of the gift is either fully or partially covered by the amount charged in the transaction, constitutes an unfair trade practice.
Even misleading you about the quality, quantity or price of a product constitutes an unfair trade practice and you have every right under the Consumer Protection Act to proceed against the shopkeeper and demand compensation for any loss or suffering caused to you. You can also haul up the retailer as well as the manufacturer for any defects in the goods purchased.
But for you to do that, you must have that proof of purchase — a bill. Always insist on a proper cash receipt indicating the name and address of the retailer and all purchase details.
The worldwide web has many sites that carry consumer-related jokes. One such site, under the title, 'Jeff's jokes-Actual label instructions on consumer products', gives some label instructions that make you laugh. Here is one of them on a Taiwanese Shampoo label: 'Use repeatedly for severe damage'.
Senior journalist, consumer affairs specialist