The role of consumers on product and service quality

By Imani Mwabuka

We often come across people complaining on having been supplied with substandard products for which they have paid full price. Similarly some people are seen grumbling that they have paid full fare but their bus and train seats were very uncomfortable. So people do not get the full worth of their paid money for products/services. Obvious they have the right to get the full value for their money.

Despite the existence of regulatory and conformity assessment authorities such as Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS), people themselves are responsible for the quality of products and services they want to purchase. The problem may be that perhaps consumers do not have full details of the products or services they are interested in. Sometimes, consumers acquire products or services without caring about their quality. Is it not their responsibility to get full details of the products and services required by them? Again it is a must for consumers to get what they have paid for.

A consumer may be a person or an entity which buys products or services to be used or consumed by himself/herself or by someone. Products may include both consumable items and durable consumer products, while services paid for may be transport, banking, electricity, film shows and the like. A ‘consumer’ may also be defined as “anybody who chooses products and services, spends money to obtain them and uses them to satisfy his or her own needs”.

Today consumers face various problems on account of competition in the market, misleading advertisements, availability of inferior quality products and services. Hence protection of consumers’ interest is of paramount importance to the Government, which does so through various institutions, including TBS. The aim is to safeguard the interest of consumers and industries on quality issues.

TBS recognizes the rights of consumers as a major component in the Bureau’s endeavor to safeguard the society against substandard products. In other words, if consumers are to protect themselves from being exploited or cheated, from substandard products, they have to understand their rights on quality issues. This will ensure that sellers of products and service providers are more careful in dealing with consumers.

For example, one of the rights of consumers is to choose the products and services he/she wants to buy and use. The consumer needs to understand the quality indicators of the products and services before deciding to acquire them. If you are aware of this right, you may ask for different varieties of the same product and read/observe quality indicators so that you choose what you like.

Sometimes, shopkeepers try to sell a particular brand of product on which they get higher commission on sale, without considering the issue of quality. This practice can be prevented if you exercise your right to choose the product and visit other shops if one shop does not have a large variety of the product. The right to choose if properly applied, consumers will be able to shun substandard products in the market ultimately making the substandard products to disappear from the market.

Consumers have the right to be informed about the quantity, quality, purity, standard or grade and price of the products available so that they can make proper choice before buying any product. This information is available on the labels of the products. Where necessary, the consumer must be informed about the safety precautions to be taken while using the product. This leads to avoidance of injury and health effect to consumers. Taking the example of gas cylinder, the supplier must inform the user to stop the flow of gas with the help of the regulator when it is not in use.

Some products carry the TBS standards mark of quality. This is a guarantee to consumers for the quality, indicating that such products have undergone appropriate conformity assessment procedures to ascertain their quality. Such product if found substandard there are measures to be taken by TBS for remedial action.

Very often, dishonest dealers and traders try to use marketing tools to sell products of poor quality on the ignorance of consumers on quality matters. Sometimes, consumers are also carried away by advertisements. But the possibility of being deceived by adverts and promotions can be avoided if consumers are conscious of their rights.

Consumers have the right to be heard. Broadly speaking, this right means that consumers have a right to be consulted by public bodies when decisions and policies affecting consumer interests are being made. At TBS, consumers are invited to take part in national standards formulation, and all stakeholders are invited during the pre-implementation conferences of such standards. Through this process consumers and traders get clarifications on issues not known to them for easier implementation. Even when TBS was launching the Pre-shipment Verification of Conformity (PVoC), stakeholders were involved in the pre-implementation conferences before the excise started in February 2012. Consumers also have the right to be heard by manufacturers, dealers and advertisers about their opinion on production, marketing and quality required. Furthermore, consumers have the right to be heard in legal proceedings in courts of law.

If and when any consumer has a complaint or grievance due to unfair trade practices like charging higher price, selling of substandard or unsafe products, lack of regularity in supply of services etc., or if he has suffered loss or injury due to defective products, he has the right to seek remedies. Through this right the consumers are assured that their complaints will receive due attention.

To prevent market malpractices and exploitation of consumers, consumer awareness and education are essentially required. TBS has been educating consumers on different occasions and through different media. The most important thing is consumer participation on understanding their right on quality issues. In advanced societies, consumers have strong organizations advocating for their right. May be it is high time such organizations were established in Tanzania.