At The Mercy Of Nigerian Traders

by Uche Nworah

Absence of vibrant consumer protection organisations in the country exposes consumers to exploitation by retail outlets. In this interview, Olusegun Adeoye of Tell magazine speaks with Uche Nworah, senior lecturer in marketing communications at the London Metropolitan Business School on the worrying exploitation of consumers by some retail outlets in Nigeria.

Q. Many Nigerians have been complaining about the poor after sales services rendered by some sales personnel especially that of electronic products. They say most of them refuse to honour agreement on the warranty leaflets, mostly in the area of repair and refund in case of damage. What do you think is responsible for this? Is it because of the economic situation, or ignorance on the part of the customers?

A. Consumers should be careful in selecting the outlets where they buy their electronic products. If you are going to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of naira on a product, it is better to choose either a known dealer or big importer where at least you know that they may honour the manufacturer’s warranty. Big dealers are expected to honour such guarantees as part of their exclusive distribution deals with the manufacturers although many of them choose not to. Unlike some of the small time dealers in Alaba and other electronics goods markets, it may be unfair to expect a refund or exchange from them because the goods may have passed through the hands of several middle men before getting into their shop, and so they are not in a position to honour such warranties because those higher up in the distribution chain would not do the same if they returned such goods. The onus is therefore on the customer, to ensure that he buys from big importers such as Tino Electronics or from any of the dealers in the various shopping malls springing up, their prices may be higher than market prices but at least their customer service guarantee will give the customer a peace of mind.

Q. What can be done to put an end to this?

A. You have to understand the nature of the Nigerian economy, at the moment the seller is still king. Because we do not have direct presence of the big electronics brand manufacturers in Nigeria, the local representatives do not care so much about the damage they are doing to their brand reputations by not honouring such warranties. The customer should for now choose carefully, rather than paying for a cheap brand that will pack up after one week, it is better to pay slightly higher for a brand that has been around for years, of which quality and durability have formed part of their brand equity.

The Consumer Protection Council should also look into this by working directly with the electronics goods retailers association if there was such an organisation to prevail on their members to at least introduce an exchange policy for defect electronics products. Asking for a full refund may not be feasible but still because we still have a caveat emptor situation in the Nigerian market system, the buyer should always beware.

Q. How important is after sales services?

A. After sales service is very important in the sales function but we should also not forget the other components of good quality customer service such as giving customers good information and advice, providing in-store conveniences i.e. parking, toilets etc. There is no doubt that a satisfied customer would always come back and will also serve as an unofficial brand ambassador helping to spread the good virtues of the brand or firm through referrals and word-of-mouth.

Q. Your advice to the consumers, does it matter where they buy their goods?

A. The place you buy your electronics goods is very important, consumers who prefer the fly-by-night cowboys that hawk their electronic products on the expressway should really not complain about the quality of such products. I have noticed some people buying mobile phone handsets, pressing iron, fans etc from street vendors, how sure are such consumers that the sellers will still be at the same spot the next day should something go wrong with the products? This is why the big Cash and Carry shops are still preferable to some of these market store traders. Unless the item in question is not so much of high value or importance.

Q. How do we improve after sales services in Nigeria?

A. There is no universal formula to achieving this objective; it will vary from market sector to another. Several key stakeholders in the transaction process are important in this process; most importantly the customer should know his rights and demand same individually or collectively through the consumer council. The government should pass and enforce consumer protection legislations which guarantee the customer after sales and other customer services. The media should help highlight the unscrupulous acts of sellers just like the BBC consumer protection programme – BBC Watchdog. Of course we can not exonerate the sellers or manufacturers themselves, they should know that their actions and inactions directly impacts on the perceptions the customers have about their brand, therefore if they treat the customers right, the customers will come back, remain loyal and attract family and friends too through word of mouth.

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