Before confirming a purchase, it is in consumers’ best interests to make sure they have all the necessary information about the product or service to be able to make an informed decision.
Besides being provided with a detailed description of the product or service offered, consumers must be clearly informed about the total cost of the purchase.
In case of products, prices are typically provided on the product itself if the purchase is made in a shop, or in case of an online shop, on the site where the product is offered for sale. In regard to services, consumers may need to request the supplier to provide them with a price quotation, for instance in situations where the services of a technician is required to fix a faulty appliance that is no longer covered by a guarantee.
From time to time, consumers may also need to engage someone to carry out works at their house or need services of professionals such as architects, lawyers or accountants. When this is the case, consumers must ensure they are provided with a detailed quotation of the costs involved. All information about the works to be carried out should be written down, in case there are problems later on.
To ensure consumers get the best value for the money spent, it is advised that they shop around for as many quotations as possible. During this process, consumers should bear in mind that there are traders who charge a fee to issue a quotation. Such fees are not illegal as long as consumers are properly informed about the charges before the quotation is issued.
Where the price billed is higher than that in the quotation, consumers may insist on paying the one agreed upon and nothing more
When comparing price quotes, a consumer should not only consider the price but also, quality standards and reputations. It is good to seek feedback from other consumers who have actually made use of a service that the consumer is considering buying and ask whether they were satisfied with the job done or service provided.
Once a quotation is accepted and confirmed by the consumer then the seller cannot charge more than the agreed price; neither can any terms and conditions agreed upon be changed, such as the type of service agreed on and the date when the service is going to be provided. Hence, consumers should also make sure that the quotation includes the name, address as well as a telephone number of the provider the service, a description of the service agreed on, and the date or timeframe when the service will be provided.
Since quotations usually have an expiry date, consumers should make sure that they confirm a quotation before it expires. Once a quote expires there is a possibility that the price may increase.
When consumers are only provided with an estimate of the costs involved, for instance because the service concerns a repair and one cannot precisely calculate the total cost of the repair, it is vital that consumers ask the trader to contact them if the costs are higher than the estimate. Such agreement would give consumers the option to cancel the repair. If consumers decide to accept the extra work or costs, then they should ensure that the original estimate is amended.
Consumers may find themselves in a situation where the price billed is higher than the price in the quotation. If this happens, consumers may insist on paying the price agreed upon in the quotation and nothing more.
Once a service is provided, consumers must ensure that they are provided with a receipt detailing the work done. Should the service turn out to be unsatisfactory it is the consumers’ responsibility to complain immediately. Cosumers mustn’t attempt to repair whatever has gone wrong with the product or servicel, or assign someone else to repair it. In case of shoddy work, it is advisable to gather evidence and complain to the original trader immediately.
Should the trader then refuse to provide a satisfactory solution, consumers may file a complaint with the Office for Consumer Affairs for mediation and an amicable settlement.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
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