Saturday, June 25, 2011

Misleading ad: Case gives warning to IT retailer Challenger

Case has finally taken action against giant IT retailer Challenger -- three months after Anne Wong Holloway complained to the consumer watchdog about a misleading advertisement taken out by the company during the IT Show in March this year.

However, the "warning" it has given to Challenger seems like a tap on the wrist, especially when the company had obviously taken its time to respond to letters by Case.

Challenger's ad was published in the mainstream newspapers during the IT Show on March 10 with a bold headline, "We Match Show Pricing".

But Anne found it was not true when she went to its Funan Centre outlet to buy a Canon all-in-one printer.

She wrote to me about her experience. I posted her story on March 13 and alerted both Case and Challenger about the complaint.

Two days ago, Thevanathan Pillay, Case's Assistant Director (Legal), emailed me to say that Challenger had "agreed to refrain from publishing future ads of similar
nature to those found in Today and Straits Times. They have agreed to
exercise caution for future advertisements so that it is in compliance with
the Consumer Protection fair Trading Act."

Pillay added: "We take note of their promise and will monitor whether
future advertisements are misleading."

When I informed Anne about the Case reply, she was not happy with its response to Challenger.

She said: "The delay and passing the buck ensured that this incident would be 'lost' and forgotten until nothing concrete can be done. No one wanted to offend an advertiser who spends money placing advertisements --- no matter how misleading and the line of least resistance was to let things pass.

"It just goes to show how little protection is afforded to consumers in Singapore.

"Since there is NO evidence of CASE's letter to Challenger (and their ad agency) nor Challenger's reply, we cannot assume any action was taken or that Challenger 'agreed to exercise caution for fture advertisements so that it is in compliance with the Consumer Protection fair Trading Act.'

"Until there is REAL protection for consumers and the individual in Singapore, we will not be truly in the 'first' world. After all, if we have a Consumer Proetection Fair Trading Act, why is there no penalty for non-compliance?"

Shortly after Anne's comments, Pillay wrote to explain: "What we have done was to write to Challenger to inform them that such an advertisement is not acceptable and inform them we do not expect a repetition of this.

"They have replied agreeing not to do the same in the future. If any person have suffered monetary loss because of the events they can pursue the matter against Challenger as a civil claim as a breach of contract for which CASE can assist.

"We do not view the matter as so serious as to warrant further action by CASE. Our letter to Challenger is considered a warning letter.

"What is important is to inform Challenger of the existence of the relevant Act and get assurance which they have given that their future advertisements will comply with the CPFTA. This is the first time we have receive complaints of this nature concerning Challenger's advertisement . We will monitor future advertisements."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Membership has its privileges? Not with Amex, says customer Irene Hoe

Amex asked for it --- "Tell us what you think (of our service)"

Ever willing to please, Irene Hoe decided to give it to them. She tried to fill up a Customer Service Satisfaction Survey online.

But she got no satisfaction. So she wrote to Amex to tell about her experience....

"I tried.. I spent nearly an hour writing my responses to your questions.

"Then I got to the question that asks what your could have done to make me recommend your card to others,

"I wrote my answer and hit CONTINUE

"But it wouldn't let me. It said that one or more questions on that page needed additional input.

"What other question?

"There was only one question and I had answered it,

"After a few attempts, I decided to call the number at the back of my card as the webpage helpfully suggested.

"So you wait five to 10 minutes while they play the horrible fractured muzak that needs replacing (but of course no one from Amex would call that line so they never know) and then a guy comes on and tells you that he is sorry but he really has no idea what I should do.

"This is just a précis of the fruitless conversation that can make anyone feel that he is talking to a service manual.

"So I decided to google Mr Russell Nickson who had sent me this wonderful form letter inviting me to use the website to tell Amex about my telephone conversation.

"And I found that like me, he was on LinkedIn but wasn't accepting any inMail or invitations to link up. I don't have to guess why!

"I also found a totally laughable collection of politically-correct corporately-correct statements he had made, which absolutely do not reflect my experience with Amex.

"And that's only the latest episode of my encounters with Amex, which has managed to decline my credit card in at least seven countries in the last three years and four times in Singapore this month alone.

"If this is what this company means by "membership has its privileges" it's time we stopped paying for them."

Unfortunately, Irene's feedback may not read. Exactly 57 minutes after she had sent her email to Amex, back came this reply:

"Dear American Express® Cardmember,

This message is automatically generated. To ensure the security of your account information, we cannot reply to inquiries sent through non-secure email.

To contact us by phone, please call the number on the back of your Card.

To view information specific to your country, please click on the appropriate link below:
(what follows is a list of countries with links to their respective Amex websites)."

It is hard to believe that for a multi-national, Amex does not entertain email from its customers!!! Membership has its privileges, indeed!!!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cold Storage overcharging: 'What's the big deal?'

Lulin Reutens has written to me to defend Cold Storage (CS) against blogger Lucy Tan's complaint of overcharging because of a faulty weighing machine.

She says: "CS is a huge chain with hundreds of cash registers, each with a weighing machine. Isn't it possible that just one machine malfunctioned, and only for one item?

"The difference was a couple of dollars. I cannot believe CS was trying to cheat anyone for such a tiny amount and only once. And the suggestion of reporting (by a reader of the blog) to the weight and measures people seems like over-reacting.

"Anyway, she pointed out the error and they corrected it and she bought the item at the correct price. So what's the big deal?

"I would be the first to complain about bad service and cheating behaviour. But don't you think we should be more judicious in our complaints?

"Singaporeans already have a reputation of being complainers. Doing it without thought would not help our cause."

Complaint about SIA toilet paper

As Lulin was giving her take on the CS complaint, she took the opportunity to mention her own about Singapore Airlines' toilet paper.

"What is the rationale behind SIA having only tissue paper in their planes' toilets, including the hand towel holders?" she asks.

"Have you tried drying your hands with tissue paper? No wonder bits and pieces fall into the sink and get washed down, clogging the slots in the draining hole.

"Is tissue paper so much cheaper than proper paper towels that it is worth annoying passengers? Or is it because economy class passengers don't deserve proper paper towels?

"If paper towels fill the waste paper container faster than tissues, then get the flight attendants to empty them more often!

"I have written feedback forms regarding this but have never received a reply. No other airlines that I have flown with use tissues for paper towels."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Game of small prints: Citibank joins in

More institutions and merchants seem to have jumped into the game of small prints. This is a game whereby they say one thing in bold prints in their advertisements but the qualifications or conditions are set out in tiny ones that challenge one's eyesight.

Three months ago, Anne Wong Holloway complained to Case about a misleading ad put out by IT retailer Challenger. It was published in the mainstream newspapers during the IT Show on March 10 with a bold headline, "We Match Show Pricing".

But Anne found that it was not true when she went to its Funan Centre outlet to buy a Canon all-in-one printer. (See blog, THE TRUTH IN CHALLENGER'S AD on March 13) . All the conditions were set out in the small prints at the bottom of the ad.

I posted her story on March 13 and told both Case and Challenger about the feedback. To date, nothing has been heard from the company even after Case wrote a second letter to it earlier this month.

Yesterday, while shopping at the Paragon, I found another case of the small prints. This time, the culprit was Citibank.

In promoting its credit cards during the Great Singapore Sale, the bank promises to give a further 5 per cent discount to its customers who use its cards.

I had bought two boxes of golf balls from one of the shops when I spotted the Citibank poster saying: "Additonal 5% off discounted price items".

As I was using my Citibank card to pay, I decided to ask the salesman whether I was entitled to the extra discount.

His answer was "No".

I countered: "Why not?"

His reply: "Read the small prints".

I decided that I should, just to satisfy my curiosity. Squinting my eyes, I managed to read one sentence that says: "Offer is not valid on discounted items above 40% off".

The salesman was right, but Citibank -- just like Challenger -- are wrong in trying to mislead. It certainly does not do their reputation any good.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bus fare overcharging

I like this letter (below) written by a bus passenger complaining about overcharging in the Today newspaper today. We should have more people like Tan Seng Wei to keep our service providers on their toes.

How hard is it to measure the distance?

"I AM writing to highlight the unfair distance-fare charged when travelling by bus between the Johor Bahru checkpoint and Woodlands checkpoint.

Since the end of November last year, the road between the checkpoints has been "straightened". But distance used for calculating the bus fare remains at 3.3km (S$0.81 per trip).

I have measured the distance using my phone GPS and the distance shown was only approximately 2km (S$0.71 per trip). Many people travelling across the Causeway are being overcharged every day.

I wrote to the Land Transport Authority several times and the last response I got in April was: "We are currently arranging with the bus operator and the Malaysian Authority for permission to enter Johor to measure the distance. Please bear with us as it will take some time to get the measurement done. We have no jurisdiction in areas under the purview of Malaysia."

It has been two months since and there is still no change to the bus fare. Is it really so hard and so complicated to get the distance measured correctly? As a commuter, I hope this issue can be resolved as soon as possible and refunds can be given to those who have been overcharged."

This story reminds me of the recent complaint by blogger Lucy Tan about overcharging by Cold Storage because of a faulty weighing machine.
Unless such issues are resolved quickly, consumers will continue to be overcharged.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cold Storage weighing machine that overcharges...

Shoppers, be warned! The weighing machines at Cold Storage outlets are not totally reliable as blogger Lucy Tan (Food Fuels Me To Talk) found out recently.

The one she went to at Chancery Lane overcharged her for a daikon. And she discovered it only because she had pre-weighed the white radish at the self-service machine.

Fortunately for her, she also happened to check her bill at the check-out counter and spotted the discrepany.

She has written to Alan Stephen Nementzik, a big shot in the company, to complain. Here's her letter:

"Dear Mr Nementzik:

It's been a while since I wrote to you. I've not been checking my Cold Storage bills over the months, mostly because there's always such a crush of people at CS outlets.

Also, I found that other places overcharge too and if I complained every time it happened, to every single shop, I would be doing nothing else!

However, very unfortunately for CS Chancery Lane, I saw a neighbour shopping there this afternoon and noticed she weighed all her mango purhases at the self-service weighing machine.

Since I wasn't buying much stuff this afternoon, I decided to emulate her and weighed the three or four items in my shopping list that were priced on a per 100 gm basis.

To cut a long story short, after I paid my bill, I noticed that the single daikon I bought was charged as one full kg ($5.40) when I distinctly remembered it as being well under 500gm when I pre-weighed.

I queried the cashier and she nonchantly said that's what the scanner showed. When I disagreed, she told another cashier to refund me. Which he duly did. And took back the daikon.

When I asked that he weighed it to prove that I wasn't mistaken, he did so. It weighed just 320gm. Then he asked whether I wanted to buy it. I said of course and I was charged $1.70!!!

Picture this to yourself: The $5.40 I was charged originally represents some 8% of my total bill. The difference between the actual price of $1.70 and what was charged originally is $3.70.

If all your customers are regularly overcharged some 5-6%, how much this must be adding to CS' profits? Even tho I've been overcharged elsewhere too, it just doesn't make it right to happen at CS, does it?

Yours sincerely
Lucy Tan"

Moral of the story: Make it a point to pre-weigh your purchases and check the figure against that on the bill at the check-out counter.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Case of "misleading" Challenger ad still unresolved

More than two months after Anne Wong-Holloway made a complaint about a "misleading" advertisement to consumer watchdog, Case, through my blog, we are still waiting patiently for an outcome.

The ad by IT retailer Challenger was published in the mainstream newspapers during the IT Show on March 10 with a bold headline, "We Match Show Pricing".

But Anne found out to her dismay that it was not true when she went to its Funan Centre outlet to buy a Canon all-in-one printer. (See blog, THE TRUTH IN CHALLENGER'S AD on March 13)

She decided to write to me. I posted her story on March 13 and alerted both Case and Challenger about the complaint.

Challenger did not even both to acknowledge my email. However, Case did, and the matter was given to the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) , an advisory council to Case, to look into.

ASAS' job is to promote ethical advertising in Singapore and is the self-regulatory body of the advertising industry.

A month after our complaint, nothing was heard from Case. So I emailed to ask what had happened.

Ms Aringi Ng, a Case official, replied: "The Council (of ASAS) finds that the matter should be referred to CASE to act under the CPFTA. We will inform CASE on this issue." CPFTA refers to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.

Well, we are still waiting for a verdict on what we see as a simple case of misrepresentation. I wonder what is taking Case so long!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Starhub, please buck up!

Starhub is reputably the worst service provider among our three telcos when it comes to mobile phone reception. Apparently, this is because it does not have sufficient transmitters to provide adequate coverage.

So subscribers are understandably upset when they are unable to make a call or send an sms especially when they are in places which they expect to have good coverage.

After being its customer for many, many years, I had given up waiting for it to improve its service coverage and switched to its rival M1 when I got my iPhone a couple of months ago.

My friend, Irene Hoe, who has been quite exasperated with Starhub's service for sometime, wrote to me today, saying:

"Whenever I am in the Clementi Polyclinic in Clementi Central, reception slips to no more than one or two bars.

"Each time I am here at the clinic, as I am now, at least once or twice there will be no reception at all and I'll see "searching for network" at the top of the screen.

"Meanwhile, I note that my M1 iPhone displays full or near full bars.

"This area, especially with the newly-opened Clementi Mall nearby, serves a large number of people. Moreover, the bus interchange is due to relocate there, so there will be even more potential users in the vicinity.

"So I fail to understand why reception for Starhub customers should be so poor - unless you deleted a transmitter while construction was underway and decided or neglected to replace it.

"I've reported this before - stupidly, only over 1633 instead of in writing - but it has been nearly a year and there seems to have been no improvement."

Well, it looks like Starhub may lose more of its customers if its does not listen and buck up.