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Special Feature

Deceiving Consumers: Is This the Best Competitive Business Practice?

Whether you are in Monrovia’s West Point slump, or sitting in one of Harbel’s port communities, or leaving a small market in Lofa County, or simply seated at a conference table in Mamba Point’s diplomatic enclave – it is the same!  When you transact a business, and later realized that you were deceived and cheated, you become gravely disappointed! Am I right? Well, recently, Aunty Fannie decided to use a few dollars to buy a soccer ball for her nephew.  One hour later, I got a call from Aunty Fannie. She went down town Monrovia and bought a “good soccer ball” that her nephew would love.  Jokingly, I asked Aunty Fannie, “How sure are you that indeed the ball you bought will last this time around.”

Her response, “Oh the seller said ‘the ball is good, and it will not burst.” “In fact all the other people around there said the ball is very [emphasizing the strong] strong.” When I heard Aunty Fannie attributing the durability of the ball to the “words of the seller” and other businesses persons within the proximity of the seller, I became jittery. That because in  Liberia, like in most developing countries, consumers are cajoled and deceived by most businesses – the flowery but deceptive adverts that promises boundless services, unrealistic strength of products, and durability of goods are all aimed at getting consumers to buy.  It’s like the un-uttered demand by the deceptive businesses  are “just take the thing, give me your money and go!”

When I tried to inform Aunty Fannie that perhaps she was a victim of deceptive advertisements, she became adamant, and remained firm in relaying the business slogan, “the ball is so good. It can’t burst!”  Listening to her excitement, I didn’t want to crush that excitement by insisting to Aunty Fannie that perhaps, just perhaps she may have been cajoled into buying a product (the ball) that was not durable, but also cost more than the actual price. She was just too excited!

Later that evening, Aunty Fannie took her eight year old nephew to a small field in Paynesville to play the newly bought soccer ball with his friends. The eight year old, as most kids with new toy, felt like he was a King that evening.  He took the ball to show his friends, Joejoe, Chuku, Elizabeth, Daniel and all the kids who had ears and eyes to listen and see his new soccer ball. On the uneven and sandy field, like most playing fields in Monrovia, the ball was placed in the middle of the small field. Aunty Fannie grinned as she watched the kids play with “the good ball” she just bought with a good amount of dollars.

The ball was now on the pitch; one, two, three, the ball moved between kids’ feet. It was kicked, chased and kicked. The ball was passed, and butted, screamed at. Then, midway between the un-refereed game, the players stopped. Something was amiss! One player, perhaps, Chuku announced, “sothing wrong with the ball!!” They had been playing for less than five minutes; that means they were only warming up. Then one of them picked up the ball. It was no longer that round object. It was saggy. “What happened?” they asked in unison?   Face grimaced; Aunty Fannie tightened her slippers on her feet and ran on the sandy pitch. What happened? “Thy new ball there Ooo! What happened to it?” she asked no one in particular.  What really happened to the “good, durable ball?

Then I got the call. The ball was being taken to the tire shop. I could imagine Aunty Fannie being followed by all the kids as they took the ball to the tire shop. I was on the phone like a doctor who was on call, directing nurses to take care of a patient. Only this time, the patient was a soccer ball, and the nurses were Aunty Fannie, and the other kids.  At the tire shop, the ball was pumped, but to no avail. As the air went in one way, it came out. 

Could the ball be repaired? No. Aunty Fannie and her small team members were told that the ball was not a genuine soccer ball. Though it was designed like a genuine soccer ball, it was an imitation, and a poor replica of a soccer ball.

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Aunty Fannie swore that she would take the damaged soccer ball back to the seller and demand a refund. She stamped her feet, shook her hands in dismay. She was much more disappointed by being fooled, and robbed not by an actual thief, but by a “business person.”  But could she take the damaged product back to the seller? If she took the ball, would the seller refund Aunty Fannie’s money?  What processes would be involved in handling and or resolving this issue?

Aunty Fannie is just one of many persons being cajoled and deceived by businesses. Most businesses – street peddlers, customer serve representatives, store operators, and other high tech businesses (Over the telephone and online businesses) engage in deceptive advertisements and promos to lure, persuade and deceive customers into purchasing services and products.

While in the United States, and other developed countries, consumers are protected against such reckless and widespread deceptions, the situation is different in Liberia and other developing countries where consumer education and consumer protection are being initiated – without Consumers education about their rights and responsibilities, businesses will continue to see deception as an added advantage in a competitive market.

In societies where regulations against unprofessional businesses are gradually being enforced, it is important for businesses – large and small – to realized that businesses can thrive if the business person is able to properly explain their products and services to consumers, so that they [consumers] are in better positions to make informed choices about the products and services offered by the businesses. The fact is that deceiving Consumers do not only drive individual consumers away, but also paints a negative image about such businesses. An example of such negative image is what Aunty Fannie now holds of the business that sold her a [fake] soccer ball. Not only will Aunty Fannie blot out the name of the business from her list, but she will [always] tell other consumers about the bad business practices of the store operators and the business center locate in downtown Monrovia. 

Even in small developing countries, businesses do not have to engage in deceptive advertisements or insincere dealings to get consumers to purchase products. A business can be successful, if it can bridge the gap between demand and supply in a proper manner.

Take the example of Johnny Sackor [not a real name], who wanted to buy a gasoline generator from a store on Randall Street. Johnny entered the store and informed the operators of the store of his desire to buy a generator for his business. The store operator asked Johnny about the type of business he had, how long he intended to run the generator, and the electrical equipment that would be used on the generator.  Realizing the importance of “satisfying customers,” and building positive relationships with consumers, the store operator told Johnny, “You will need a generator that is XXX and has xxx for efficiency and durability. I had a few of such generators, ran out a few weeks ago.  My next shipment is not until the end of May, but I can direct you to other stores that sell similar products.”

What did that store operator demonstrate? How many times have you had a business person let you walk out of their store without really trying hard to sell you an “alternative” to what you want to buy? Rarely, I guess!

Whether you are an individual who engages in door to door businesses, a small store owner, a small stall owner, or a large business owner, the fact is when you deal professional and realistically with people, they remember, even if they do not come back immediately. In the same vein, when you deal unfairly with people, they also remember and will not hesitate to spread the “news” to other people.

In the case of Johnny and the generator seller, any customer would like it if a business person is less pushy, listens to them and clears their doubts when they go out shopping.  Business owners should be polite and attentive, and listen to Customer’s questions carefully. Show them all the varieties of the items, so that the customer can easily choose among them. Try and provide a good atmosphere for shopping, so that the customer will give a serious thought of coming to your place the next time. That’s simply because, dealing with consumer in a right way is important for new, established and influential businesses. 

Businesses who engage in deceptive and unprofessional practices, including the soccer ball seller who deceived Aunty Fannie must realized that Consumers want to buy items which are really good for the money which is being spent. Therefore businesses must never compromise on the quality of products. Businesses must avoid deceiving customers in matters related to services; quality and pricing of the product as this can drive Consumers away or even force them to take a legal action against businesses. Businesses must see to it that, along with the customer satisfaction, consumers earn a decent profit from the deal.

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