Customer pays dearly for ‘misreading’ price

Larissa Pironi, owner of Larissima at Constantia Village, didn’t show much goodwill when Lindsey Hall of Plumstead reportedly misread the price tag on a little black dress (LBD) she bought to wear at her husband Craig’s office party. The LBD cost an eye-watering R4 499 but she thought it was R450.

“When I saw the till slip, I almost had a heart attack. I asked the saleswoman, Lynn Leggett, to reverse the transaction, but she pointed to a ‘No Refunds’ sign and said she didn’t have the codes.

“However, Ms Pironi, who was in Plett, would be back the next day, and I should come back then. I left the store and the dress,” said Ms Hall who, when she returned, asked Ms Pironi for a refund. “But she refused.”

The Halls went back to Larissima and showed Ms Pironi a letter they wanted to publish in the media, but she told them she “doesn’t take kindly to threats”.

When I called Larissima, Ms Leggett said Ms Pironi wasn’t there. Ms Pironi’s cellphone went to voicemail, so I phoned Ms Leggett again who asked if we could discuss it “in the new year”.

She refused to give me Ms Pironi’s email address, but when I eventually got it that email went unanswered.

On December 21, I again emailed Ms Pironi who wrote: “We have a clear sign on the shop counter that we do strictly no refunds and exchanges only within seven days and with proof of purchase.

“Ms Hall asked Lynn three times if that was the price before deciding to buy the dress. She confirmed the amount and typed in her pin when her card was inserted in the machine.

“On returning the dress, Lynn issued a credit note which she refused to accept. The item was not damaged nor defective. Representatives from the ‘consumer council’ came to inspect the conditions of the sale and were happy with our answers as impulse buys in retail space do not warrant refunds, apparently only in the case of on-line purchases are refunds mandatory,” said Ms Pironi, who alleged that Mr Hall, “a man over six foot who towered over me, came in and shouted defamatory comments and adopted such an extremely ‘intimidatory’ manner that Miriam, the centre’s off-duty manageress, had to call the security guard to remove him”.

Centre manager Diedre Paul-Diemont said Miriam has no recollection of the incident. “There is no record and incidents are logged by email.”

Ms Pironi said a customer had urged her to proceed with charges of intimidation because “he scared her, me and my two boys, 7 and 9, who were there”.

Ms Pironi warned: “The article needs to be very carefully written because any content that might be interpreted as defamatory will be immediately taken to my attorney and will be instructed to proceed against you and your newspaper.

“Sometimes it is best to not open a can of worms especially in such a case where the complainant has brought criminal charges down on himself.”

When I asked Ms Pironi for proof that she had laid criminal charges against Mr Hall, she said: “Why should I? To provide fodder for your article?”

After a visit to Larissima by investigator Albert Nkomo of the Consumer Protector’s Office (CPO), the CP could not conclusively find that Larissima’s conduct amounted to an unfair business practice or there was any wrongdoing.

Ms Leggett told the CP that the owner’s “stance remained the same”.

The CP said Ms Hall told them she was made aware that the item cost R4 499.

Ms Hall’s request did not stem from a transaction in which the goods were found to be defective, so there is no legal basis for her claim.

“We confirm that Section 56 of the CPA provides consumers with an implied warranty of quality of six months and a suitable remedy: repair, refunds or replacement,” the CP said.

“And it was Ms Hall’s duty to confirm the price before going ahead with the transaction.”

As I understand it, Ms Hall misread the price tag. Which has nothing to do with returning a “defective item”.

Consumer lawyer Trudie Broekmann, of Trudie Broekmann and Associates, in Tamboerskloof, explained: “Our law says you enter into a contract if you and the other party reach consensus on the price. In this case, the consumer was under the impression it was much less than the true price. Consequently, no contract was created between the consumer and the retailer, and the retailer is not entitled to payment. She did the right thing by leaving the dress at the shop and is entitled to claim repayment from Larissima who shouldn’t have taken the money from her account.”

Advocate Neville Melville, Ombudsman for Consumer Goods and Services (CGSO), said that because Ms Hall apparently misread the price tag the provisions of the CPA do not apply, “although as a long shot you could argue an unfair business practice”.

“The issue must then be considered under the common law rules of contract. In general terms, the rules regarding a unilateral mistake would have to be considered. In short, the purchaser is not bound if the unilateral mistake is iustus error: the customer is not bound if they prove the mistake is both material and reasonable.

“Also at issue is whether the other party realised that the assent to the contract was being made under some misapprehension or misconception,” said the ombud who added that a supplier may not have a blanket “no refunds” policy under the CPA as consumers have a right to a refund under certain conditions.