7 steps to being an Empowered Consumer

Amidst calls to cut back on spending, here are some more empowering ways to get more value for your money.

Everywhere you turn there are now messages telling you to save more: cut down on spending and adjust your lifestyle to meet the sudden onslaught of price increases. Indeed, such advice is useful: it cannot be denied that being prudent will help you face the price hikes. But hearing the same drumming over and over again can be disempowering. It’s as if saying, it is your fault and only yours that you cannot survive the inflation despite the fact that everyone acknowledges that prices are increasing without salaries rising in tandem.

Though there is little we can do to change economic policies which have come to pass, we can turn the disempowered feeling we get from being told constantly to change our lifestyles to something more positive, by being more empowered and informed consumers.

1. Change the way you see why you shouldn’t spend

It’s as simple as the difference between saying I won’t buy this because I cannot afford it,” to “I won’t buy this because it is not of good enough quality/usefulness to justify its high price.”

Sometimes, constantly telling ourselves we cannot afford this or that can feel truly disempowering. Whilst it may be true in the sense that there may be less money in your pocket than is required by the price tag; perhaps there is another way to look at it. Instead, realise how hard you’ve worked for your money and ask yourself: “is it worth it for me to spend on this item/experience? Am I getting enough value for the money I am fork out?

The point here is to realise that your money has value. It has been devalued enough by changes in policy and economic monopoly. So why allow more people (merchants and producers) to devalue it further by charging a price for an item that isn’t worth it?

For a real concrete example; take generic brands versus branded items in grocery stores: why are we paying more for a brand name and state-of-the-art packaging when what we want is simply laundry detergent that can be made for a fraction of the price?

2. Say no to bad quality

This point links with the first. If you’ve purchased something that is of inferior quality; make a stand not to purchase it again. Many consumers now turn to social media as well to express their dissatisfaction on a brand’s page. It may seem petty, but the only way we will stop being fed inferior products is when we stop accepting it as the ‘way things are’.

3. Say no to bad service

Have you tried walking into a luxury brand store in your flip-flops only to be completely ignored; then return the next day in office attire and be treated with complete apple polishing from the very same attendant who ignored you? A lecturer in KL did this and shared the experience with his class. He of course, gave the attendant an earful and bought nothing.

No matter how you are dressed; how many items you are buying, never put up with disrespect from a store be it a luxury brand or an all-items-at-RM2 outlet. Whether you spend RM50 or RM500; you are keeping the business running, employees paid and owner profiting so shouldn’t you be treated with respect? This of course isn’t about mistreating store employees or expecting a red carpet but being shunned, tersely responded to or flat out ignored isn’t acceptable.

After all, at today’s prices, you’ve most likely already paid for good service in the price of your item.

4. Do research

Many customers do this already, but if you haven’t it’s time to start. The internet now offers you access to businesses around the world. All you need to do to find the recommended price of an item is to search it online. Before buying something, especially a big ticket, expensive item, do your research on its price. Could there be another store offering a better deal? The same can also be said for niche or hobby related items. These are not controlled and can come with overly inflated price tags. But in the end, the merchants do depend on a small niche group of enthusiasts to fuel their business so don’t be afraid to speak out if they’re charging 2x more than their international counterparts. 

You can only do this if you look it up.

5. Exercise consumer rights

Many consumers don’t even know what their rights are. The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association ( FOMCA) says you have the following rights:

  • The right to safety - To be protected against products, production processes and services that are hazardous to health or life.
  • The right to be informed - To be given the facts needed to make an informed choice, and to be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising and labelling.
  • The right to choose - To be able to select from a range of products and services, offered at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality.
  • The right to redress - To receive a fair settlement of just claims, including compensation for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services. (for a full list or rights and responsibilities, check FOMCA’s page.)

There are also numerous legislations carefully delineating these rights. One of the most important is the Consumer Protection Act 1999 ( CPA). These guidelines and laws help us know more about our rights as consumers. Did you know the following instances could be considered illegal?

a) Paid car parks that tell you park at your own risk”. As long as you’ve paid the carpark a fee, they should take reasonable care of your car and you as provided for in the new Section 21A of the CPA.

b) “Goods sold are not exchangeable” stamped on your receipt. Was this brought to your attention before you paid? If not, it isn’t valid. In order for a seller to bind you to a term which excludes their own liability, they need to let you know about it BEFORE you conclude the sale. This is because of the right to information. You need to have all the facts before buying, no? As such, only informing you after you purchase – with a receipt – does not bind you to the term.

c) Getting the “you can only exchange for other items” when you return a defective product. Under section 46 of the CPA, the consumer has the right to choose whether he would like a refund or a replacement for a defective item.

These are just some of the examples we found upon perusing the CPA. Of course, do get in touch with the Consumer Claims Tribunal or FOMCA to be sure of your rights and what actions you can take. A lot of these situations are managed case-by-case and the above isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive advice on situations.

6. Support healthy competition

A brand new commission was established in 2010 to ensure sellers and suppliers are playing fair. Healthy competition means allowing demand and supply factors to dictate prices. It allows merchants to sell at prices lower than their competitors to gain more customers. The result of such a system is that you, the consumer, gets to shop around for the best value. But what happens when a group of traders all decide to supply only one brand and all the same price (most likely an inflated one!)? What happens is – you lose out.

The new Competition Commission has been established to investigate, amongst other anti-competition practices, price fixing and supply rigging (holding on to stocks collectively to create unnatural demand frenzy and thus over-inflated prices).

The Commission is currently investigating the price hikes of stationery and ice which allegedly reeks of cartel behaviour.

“MyCC warned associations wanting to hike the price of ice and stationery to do it independently and not bound by any agreement.
This is because those that conspired to hike prices were committing a serious offence under the law.

But what can you do? If you’ve noticed sellers you frequent fixing prices, refusing to sell or forcing you to buy products you don’t need in order to get the ones you want, make a complaint with the Commission. The Commission works on tip-offs from the public too so do your part to keep prices low and merchants as honest as possible!

For more information on what constitutes unhealthy competition; check out the handy guide on the Commission’s website.

7. Make use of Government incentives and initiatives

Whether or not it’s enough, how about making use of whatever benefits we are afforded? If you qualify for BR1M, then make sure you submit your application; where possible shop at 1Malaysia stores (which are reportedly going to start selling fresh produce as well) and take a closer look at tax exemptions and rebates to make the most of them. This might seem penny-wise, pound foolish but every little bit will count. 

And after all, as a taxpayer you’ve paid for these so why not make full use of them? The same goes for 1Malaysia clinics and government hospitals. Government hospitals; albeit make you wait for treatment; can actually be more efficient than some private hospitals as they are not solely concerned with money values.

How does this help?

Being an informed consumer actually does translate to getting more for your money and keeping prices competitive. Whilst some endeavours may not yield immediate results or obvious savings; every time you exert collective power as an informed consumer, you make further headway in creating a better marketplace for all of us. This of course doesn’t mean you should abuse your power; that doesn’t make you any better nor help the situation any more than an unscrupulous trader so take care not to overdo the power trip.

This 2014, even as you do cut down on your spending, make sure that whatever you do spend on, is giving you the most value for your money. Take your power back.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only. This article does not constitute financial, legal or other advice. The views expressed are the writer's own, and do not reflect or incorporate the views of any entity within the Ascension Lab or Saving Experts Sdn. Bhd entities. Nothing in this article binds or incorporates the views of any Entity, or creates legal relationships between the reader and any Entity.


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