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Centre must ensure one standard measure for all packed, non-packed goods

Last week, an online milk delivery start-up called to say that they are home delivering fresh vegetables and fruits too and as a promotional offer, their customers would be entitled to a 50 per cent discount on the original price ! Of course, there was a catch- the offer would be open for a month, but the discounts would apply only if I validated it with a purchase order for a hamper immediately
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 11:41 PM IST

Last week, an online milk delivery start-up called to say that they are home delivering fresh vegetables and fruits too and as a promotional offer, their customers would be entitled to a 50 per cent discount on the original price ! Of course, there was a catch- the offer would be open for a month, but the discounts would apply only if I validated it with a purchase order for a hamper immediately.

I do not like companies that try to hustle you into making a purchase decision instantly, on the basis of their promotional talk on your cell phone. I also know that in most of these cases, the consumer is not given the full and correct information. So I decided to check his prices to see whether he is really giving a 50 per cent discount and whether his prices compare favourably with other online and offline stores.

At first glance, I was struck by the price of French beans quoted- 17.50 after discount! Since similar beans were being sold for 28 for half a kg in two online stores, I thought this was a good offer, till I scrutinized the details carefully and detected the mischief!

The quantity of beans for which the price was quoted was only 225 gms! The company may call it a marketing strategy, but I would call it an unfair practice. First, the company calls you and conditions your mind to expect a low price and if you are not careful, you will order the beans believing that you are getting a good deal, without seeing the quantity mentioned in dull blue, against the red colour of the price.

That’s not all, Specifying 17.50 for 225 gms (not 250 or 500 ) was also obviously meant to prevent price comparison with others. With my poor maths skills, I managed with great difficulty, to calculate the price for one kilogram- 77.70 . Now this price was far higher than the price at which others- online/app based stores as well as brick and mortar stores -were selling , at 56 a kilogram. In other words, this vegetable, after the so-called discount, was costing 21.70 more per kg than others! To mask this and make comparison difficult, he was quoting the price for 225 gms!

I then checked his other prices and noticed that there was no uniformity in the quantity quoted. For lettuce, the price listed was for 315 gms, for mushroom-180 gms, for green chilies- 90 gms. Thus it took away the consumer’s right to informed purchase by making price comparison just impossible. Besides, if what you want is 500 gms and not 315, calculating the price was tough!

Perturbed by what I saw, I checked up more online grocers and found lot of ambiguity in the pricing. For example, one of them quoted 39 for a piece of Broccoli and said in brackets that it’s approximate weight would be 250-500 gms. Does it mean that he will charge 39 for one piece of broccoli, irrespective of its weight? Apple- 159 for four pieces ( 530 to 640 gms) Similarly, the price quoted for cabbage and cauliflower was for one unit, with wide variation in the weight. Why can’t he just mention the price per kg? The sum and substance of all this is that every online/App /WhatsApp based seller is trying to mislead the consumer, in order to sell- thereby trampling over several rights of consumers..

In order to curb just such practices in the packed goods sector , the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules mandate that ail packed goods should only be sold in certain standard sizes specified under the Rules. Consumers urgently need similar protection vis-à-vis non-packed goods too,

The Union ministry of consumer affairs or the Central Consumer Protection Authority has to step in and ensure that all online, app-based, WhatsApp based retailers display prices of non-packed goods-particularly vegetables and fruits- in only one standard measure- one kg or one litre. This would go a long way in preventing deceptive promotional practices.

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