The truth behind ‘free’ offersUpdated: Jan 18, 2020 17:40 IST
It’s a season of gifts. You buy a hand wash, you get another free. With a body moisturiser comes a small gift— a lip balm. The purchase of a toilet cleaner entitles you to a bottle of glass cleaner, a packet of paneer, a glass bowl. A formal jacket gets you a pair of shoes and purchase of two shirts, a tie.
Whether such gifts are entirely free or not is a debatable point – in the eighties and nineties, several complaints filed before the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission pertained to manufacturers hiking the price of a product prior to making the ‘free gift offer’. Whatever may be the truth, consumer preference is certainly influenced by the free offers and manufacturers do exploit this to either push slow-moving goods or promote a new product. It could also be to gain a competitive edge over a rival and improve sales.
Manufacturers of course advertise the offer in big letters on the package and in order to ensure that the retailer does not hold back the free products and sell them, some of the gifts also carry a declaration that they are not for sale or that they are offered free with a specific item. In all such cases, it is the duty of the retailer to ensure that consumers get what is offered free.
Yet consumers often complain that shopkeepers or the shop assistants withhold free gifts and do not pass them on. It may be deliberate or inadvertent, but in most such cases, unless the gift is an expensive one, consumers usually do not pursue the matter.
But there are instances where the failure of the retailer to hand over the free gift has led to a complaint before the consumer court. The highest consumer court in the country, the National Consume Disputes Redressal Commission, dealt with one such case recently.
A resident of Tamil Nadu, S Jayaraman’s complaint was that the store did not give Vim Gel worth Rs 20, offered free with a bottle of Domex. On noticing this when he opened his purchases at home, he called the store and asked that the Gel be delivered at home but the store refused.
The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, which heard his complaint ex-parte, held it to be an unfair trade practice and directed the store to pay the consumer Rs 2,500. On the ground that there was no evidence of the retailer making a habit of this or how many consumers were denied the gift, the Forum limited the amount to be paid by the store to the Consumer Legal Aid Services of the District Forum to Rs 5000.
Dissatisfied with this decision, the consumer filed an appeal before the consumer court at the state level, seeking higher compensation. However, it was dismissed in default because the consumer failed to go the consumer court to present his case.
In response to the revision petition filed by him, the National Commission held that there was no miscarriage of justice or infirmity in the orders of the lower consumer courts and dismissed it. (S.Jayaraman Vs Proprietor/Manager, Sri Kannan Departmental Store, Tamil Nadu, RP No 2566 of 2017)
To the consumer, the compensation may be too meagre but to the retailer, it does convey a message. First of all, he ought to have ensured that the free item provided by the manufacturer was given to the consumer. After having failed to do that, if he had only apologised and sent the Gel to the consumer at his residence, he would have spent a maximum of Rs 50 and earned the goodwill of the customer. Instead, he had to pay Rs 7,500. And he also lost a customer and through him, may be many more.