The online trend on what I ordered vs what I got may seem quite funny till it comes home then we tend to feel the disappointment and frustrations of previous victims of such. This gives rise to the question of whether or not there are laws in place which protects the interest of consumers. A question may also be asked, what then can be done to curb the excesses of sellers making use of the internet (e-commerce) to perpetuate such acts?
Who is a Consumer?
A consumer is any one who uses an article produced, who buys, obtains and uses all kinds of goods and services.
It goes therefore to say that consumer protection is an expression used in defining legislations which protects the interest of consumers.
Laws Guiding Consumer Rights
There are two (2) major laws governing Consumer rights in Nigeria;
- The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission established under Section 3 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act is the major regulatory agency but there are other agencies that regulate and protect Consumer Rights in other sectors.
- Standard Organization of Nigeria
- Central Bank of Nigeria
- Nigerian Communications Commission
- Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission
- National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control among others.
The words 'Undertaking/ Seller' and 'Consumer/ Buyer' will be used interchangeable in this article.
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act
Section 114 to 133 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act provides for Consumer Rights.
Section 114 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act bestows on consumers the right to information in plain and understandable language.
This means that an ordinary consumer of the class of persons for whom the notice, document or visual representation of the goods and services is intended, should be able, even with average skills, to understand the content, significance and import of such notice. In short, whatever notice a producer displays for their consumer must be done in a manner that will not cause confusion but will be easily understood by their consumers.
The Act goes further to state in Section 115(1) that;
'an undertaking shall not display any goods or services for sale without adequately displaying to the consumers a price of those goods or services.'
Section 167 (the Interpretation section) defines an 'Undertaking' to include any person involved in the production of, or the trade in goods or the provision of services.
This means a person displaying goods for consumers to purchase or make use of its services must display the price of those goods or services for their consumers. In essence, 'DM for price' is contrary to the provisions of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act.
Section 129 of the Act provides for prohibited transactions, agreements, terms and conditions. It contains a list of things an Undertaking i.e. a Seller is not allowed to do;
- If its purpose is to defeat the aim of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, mislead or deceive consumers or partake in any fraudulent act.
- Deprive the Consumer of his/her rights to return defective goods or any rights set out in this Act (Basically, Sellers that say, 'No returns'), or avoid their responsibilities under this Act, or set aside or override any provision of this Act, or authorize an unlawful act by the Undertaking, or fail to perform an act that is required under this Act.
- Anything that tries to exempt the Seller from being liable or responsible for a gross negligence on their part or the part of a person they are responsible for, or impose a responsibility on the Consumer to pay for damages.
- The Undertaking falsely states that the Consumer before entering into an agreement with the Undertaking, acknowledged that no representation or warranties were made in connection with the agreement by the Undertaking or any person working for him/her/it. i.e. A false claim by the Undertaking that the Consumer entered into the agreement knowing fully well that there were no warranties or representation on whatever goods the Consumer desired.
- If the Undertaking expresses an agreement asking the Consumer to deposit any means of identification, credit or debit card, bank account or automatic teller machine access card or any similar identifying document or device, or provide a person identification code or number to be used to access an account.
Section 129 (2) states that the contravention (breach) of this section by the Undertaking, renders the Contract void. That means the Contract is unenforceable.
Furthermore, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, 2018 in Section 131(1) states that every consumer has a right to receive goods that –
(a) are reasonably suitable for the purpose for which they are generally intended;
(b) are of good quality, in good working order and free of defects;
(c) will be useable and durable for a reasonable period of time, having regard to the use to which they would normally be put and to all the surrounding circumstances of their supply; and
(d) comply with any applicable standards set by industry sector regulators.
Sale of Goods Act
'a contract whereby the seller transfers or agrees to transfer the property in the goods to the buyer for a money consideration called price.'
Marrying Section 115 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act and Section of 1 of the Sale of Goods Act, we note the import of price both in the display of goods for sale and the actual consideration of sale which comes in monetary form as the price. Once price is attached, it gives value to the product and service. There are therefore conditions statutorily implied in every contract of sale of goods where which not followed, may give rise to a claim of damages or repudiation of the contract.
Implied Conditions Sale by Description
This is contained under Section 14 of the Sale of Goods Act.
The implied conditions sale by description means that there is an implied condition that the goods shall correspond with the description given by the seller particularly where the buyer has not seen the goods.
For example, in a case where you see a piece of item you love on a social media platform like Instagram and the seller informs you that he or she is out of stock but there is something similar which is not on display. The Seller goes on to assure you by further describing what the product is and how it works and you decide to pay for it based solely on the description of the goods given by the Seller. If what is delivered does not correspond with what was described to you by the Seller, you can decide to repudiate the contract of sale by rejecting the order.
Implied Condition as to Quality or Fitness
Conditions as to fitness for purpose and merchantability; Section 15(a) and (b) of the Sale of Goods Act provides;
a.) ‘where the buyer expressly or by implication makes known to the seller the particular purpose for which the goods are required, so as to show that the buyer relies on the sellers skill or judgment, and the goods are of a description which is in the course of the sellers business to supply (whether he be the manufacturer or not), there is an implied condition that the goods shall be reasonably fit for such purpose….’
b.) ‘where goods are bought by description from a seller who deals in goods of that description (whether he be the manufacturer or not) there is an implied condition that the goods shall be of merchantable quality….’
Fitness for purpose means that the goods should satisfy the conditions why it was bought. This is achieved where, the seller deals in goods of such purpose, the seller was informed of the purpose for which the goods is required and the buyer relied on the skill or judgment of the seller.
For instance, where a Seller who deals on the sale of maternity/mother care products is met by a potential buyer who is interested in buying a product that will help lactating mothers. Based on the potential buyers need, the Seller recommends a certain product to the potential Buyer who relies on the Seller's judgment and decides to purchase that product. In the unfortunate situation where there is a defect in such purchase, the seller would be liable to the buyer for damages.
What I Ordered Vs. What I Got
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, 2018 in protecting consumers provides in Section 125(1)(a) and (b)
‘where in the marketing of any goods or services an undertaking or any person acting on its behalf by words or conduct;
(a) directly or indirectly expresses or implies a false, misleading or deceptive representation concerning a material fact to a consumer or prospective consumer, or
(b) fails to correct an apparent misapprehension on the part of a consumer or prospective consumer, amounting to a false, misleading or deceptive representation or permit or require any other person to do so,
The undertaking is liable for damages to any person damaged, and shall be ordered to make monetary restitution’.
This means that if a product which was purchased or bought by the Consumer is completely different or a major part of that product is different from what was displayed by the Seller or anyone acting on their behalf then the Seller is liable to the Consumer for damages and will be ordered to repay the money spent on that product.
Summarily, as an extra precaution which is highly advisable, a Consumer when dealing especially with online vendors may decide to only deal with vendors whose online footprints .can easily be traceable by an address.
A consumer might also opt for payment on delivery which if upon delivery the product is not up to par with what was ordered, can reject the order.
In a situation where money has exchanged hands, and the vendor is traceable, you may write a letter of demand stating your grievance. With this a suitable outcome can be reached by both parties. Where this does not work you can take the vendor to court.
You can read more here
Visit the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission here to file any complaints against Vendors or Sellers you might have. A slide of comments from people who have been helped by this regulatory body is on their website as well.
Written by V. Ekesiobi