By Orville Williams
The Consumer Affairs Division is warning individuals who buy goods locally online to exercise caution and to ensure transactions are fair and satisfactory.
According to officer Simone Williams, the division has recorded an increase in transaction complaints since the start of the lockdown period. She added that, with over 20 complaints during that period, it has become a cause for concern for the authorities.
Division spokeswoman Jo-Ann Peters said while online marketplaces do bring some benefit to the country, there are persistent problems.
“Over the past few months, we have seen an increase in consumer complaints regarding sales made in the local online marketplace. Yes, [the marketplace] is good to have; it is advantageous to commerce here in Antigua and Barbuda.
“However, the complaints, they’re either that the goods are not working properly, not working at all, or the goods are not as advertised. These are some issues that we have been having and, of course, we need to have the dialogue with these sellers and consumers alike,” Peters explained.
Perhaps the most prominent selling category, Williams says, is electronics with personal items and food items being moved as well. This movement of goods, according to Peters, is made much harder to monitor in reference to the complaints, due to the absence of valid receipts.
While it should be a part of sale transactions, the sellers are not providing receipts to the buyers and this poses a unique issue for the department.
“Because of that, we cannot find [the sellers]. We go back to their Facebook page and they’re not in existence; we go back on [a popular online marketplace] and they’re not there anymore, or the telephone number they had before is not working. So, there’s no way we can contact them to get any redress for the consumer,” Peters said.
She also referred to two pieces of legislation that govern these transactions — the Sale of Goods Act 1990 and Misrepresentation Act 1999. These, they warn, should be strictly adhered to in order to prevent any breaches of the law.
With the Sale of Goods Act, Peters explained that “goods must be of merchantable quality, meaning a new item should not be falling apart [and] it should work as a new item should. Even if it has some difficulties, it should be manufacturing defects. If there are manufacturing defects, then the consumer should get redress from the seller.”
She also stressed that – rather than the manufacturer – the seller is actually responsible for any claim from the consumer. However, she added that some sellers are of the view that because they’re selling online [and] don’t have a business place, they’re not traders.
“The individual does not get away from this, you are still selling, you are still trading. Once money becomes a part of it, it is a sale transaction under the Sale of Goods Act,” she stated.
On the Misrepresentation Act, Peters reminded that it is unlawful for goods to be advertised under false pretences, saying, “once a seller or a trader is getting a consumer to part with their money by making a false claim, then you would have committed a civil offence.”
Both Williams and Peters shared that although there are several hindrances to their investigations, they do get assistance from the police. However, they are advising the culpable parties to desist from participating in fraudulent advertising and transactions, as they would rather educate than have to push for any type of prosecution.
They also urged the buyers on these marketplaces to maintain their responsibility in these transactions, saying, “consumers have to be responsible, to ensure that the goods are checked thoroughly and that [the products] are working before you pass the money”.