The Sunday World
Diarmuid MacShane, November 21st, 2004
In a recent article in the Sunday World, Des Ekin excellently portrayed a “Rip-off Encyclopaedia – An A-Z guide on who is fleecing you and where”. He described many of the day to day activities where Irish consumers are being ripped off. Included were businesses such as pubs, doctors and dentists, banks, and insurance companies.
With that in mind, www.valueireland.com, believing in “better purchasing decisions through better information”, presents an A-Z of Avoiding Rip-Off Ireland – a guide for Irish consumers on how best to protect themselves against rip-off Ireland.
Act in your own best interests – It’s a big bad rip-off world out there. Businesses are out to rip us off. Some organisations exist that can help us as consumers (Consumers Association, Director of Consumer Affairs, etc.).
However, we have to act in our own best interests. If you do feel ripped off, don’t go back and always tell others. Poor word of mouth is a great fear for businesses which can dramatically impact profits. Use www.valueireland.com to communicate to others your purchasing experiences.
Budget –No matter what you’re buying, always have a budget, and keep in your mind how much something is worth to you. Know the price before buying, or else ask immediately while you still have a chance to back out.
If you find it’s more than you budgeted for, just say “no thanks”. Don’t feel pressurised – just because you’re at the counter doesn’t mean you have to buy.
Check your bills – Whenever you receive a bill – in the post, in a restaurant or garage, always check it thoroughly. Recently on www.valueireland.com, 42% of visitors surveyed admitted to not checking all their bills.
Ensure that only items you expect are included – make sure of the numbers.
If a service charge is added, ensure that the amount is correct. Finally, always calculate the total yourself to ensure that you’re being charged the right amount.
Driving on empty – Be aware of petrol prices on your regular driving routes. Don’t wait until your tank is empty to buy petrol. This reduces your ability to shop around, or to make it to a cheaper petrol station. If you see a cheaper price than you’re used to, fill your tank.
Electricity Reserves – Given the relentless increase in electricity costs in Ireland, and the lack of competition in the electricity market, the best way of reducing your electricity costs is to reduce consumption. Use long-life fluorescent bulbs wherever possible. Check your temperature settings to see if they can be reduced a degree or two. If you normally use a dryer, can you hang your clothes to dry and only use the dryer for heavier or “urgent” drying?
Favour the brave! Be confident in situations where you may have to register a complaint or an issue when out shopping and don’t let yourself be bullied.
Irish consumers have rights and entitlements, and just because you may be an inconvenience to someone doesn’t mean that these rights and entitlements matter any less.
Be familiar with your consumer rights and what you should expect from retailers under current legislation.
Many sites, www.valueireland.com included, provide an explanation of the main consumer impacting legislation – the Sale of Goods and Supply of Service Act, 1980.
Give alternatives – When in a situation where you have to complain about price, quality or service, be as positive as possible.
Explain what your issue is; detail what your expectations were prior to coming into that particular establishment; explain why the reality differed from expectations, and what you would reasonably expect from them to rectify the situation.
For example, in a restaurant where your starter was unsatisfactory you could ask for another, ask for a desert at the end instead, at no extra cost. And remember, complain as early as possible – no point finishing the starter, and then complaining.
Home Improvements and Repairs – If bringing workmen into your home, rather than randomly picking from the telephone directory, it’s always best to follow recommendations from friends and colleagues.
Always get written quotations rather than verbal estimates, and get these from at least 3 different tradesmen to allow you make an informed choice. When dealing with someone new, ask to see trade certifications or references from past customers.
Be careful of tradesmen who only accept cash, who aren’t listed in the telephone directory, or ask you to pay up front.
Insurance Renewals – Don’t automatically renew any of your insurance policies. Ring 5 or 6 different other companies requesting quotations. Ask for exactly the same coverage as you have already. Ask if there are discounts available, or if any extras are included that you may like, or may wish to have removed to reduce the quote even further.
And then go back to your existing insurer and see how much they value your business.
Job. When you’re unhappy with the prices, or service or quality, of a product or service you’ve bought, remember that it may not ultimately be the fault of the person that you’re dealing with – they’re only doing their job.
There’s no point taking out your frustrations on them. Patiently explain your problem, and then if necessary, ask for the Manager. And remember, there’s always someone in charge.
Keep Your Receipts – No matter what you buy, or no matter how confident you are in your purchase, always keep receipts for your purchases. You never know when you may need them to go back to the place of purchase. And always now ask for a receipt in a taxi as well.
Letter Box Scams – Unsolicited mail in your letter box promising unbelievable riches or holidays away, or a brand new car, should most likely always be characterised as “if it sounds too good to be true, then it most likely is”. Unfortunately!
This is especially true if you have to hand over your hard-earned cash to handle “administration”. Don’t you think that if someone is “giving” you thousands of euros, that they could afford a couple of hundred euros for administration?
Mobile Aware – 2 out of the 3 mobile phone providers in Ireland have admitted overcharging customers. Therefore, shouldn’t we all ensure that we know what we’re paying them and what we should be getting for our money?
Always check your monthly bills. If you pay upfront for your calls, the networks still allow you check your usage through their websites.
Once you understand your mobile usage (texts, on-net, off-net, land-lines, peak, off-peak) you can then see how best you can take advantage of the different package plans offered by the networks.
Never impulse buy. Buy now, regret later? If you’re strolling around the shops on a Saturday afternoon, with nothing better to do, be careful of impulse buying. Never buy something you don’t need, could do without, or haven’t researched properly. If you see something you’d like, make a note, think about it, and if you still need/want it next week, go right ahead.
Online Credit Card Security – These simple points can help the nervous among you. Only use credit cards on reputable, well known, sites. Always ensure you’re using a secure internet connection (padlock on bottom right of browser window). Ensure that the site you use has a telephone helpdesk and a postal address so that you can follow up on any problems. It may be advantageous to have an “online only” credit card with a lower limit in case details are stolen. Never save your credit card details on any website if you’re the ultra-cautious type.
Promotion too good to miss? Don’t let “sales”, “special offers” or “promotions” cloud your judgm
ent when making purchases. Remember to resist any sales pressure tactics. Don’t let anyone talk you into purchasing something you’re not sure about, especially under the guise of beating an offer deadline or closing date. If you do buy something you actually do want or need, ensure you understand the terms and conditions, and make yourself happy that there is value on offer.
Question everything – Always ask as many questions necessary to satisfy yourself that you’re making a correct purchasing decision. That’s what shop assistants are there for – people in shops to assist us make purchases. Many get commission on your purchase – make them earn it.
Your questions should include asking about special offers, money-off deals, and anything else they may be able to do for you to entice you to make your purchase in their shop and not down the street. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Research your purchases – If planning to make a large purchase, don’t just go into the first shop you find and splash out. Do a little shopping around.
Check alternative stores in your local area, and even outside if you’re able to travel. Keep an eye on the media for any advertising that may be relevant for your purchase.
Use the telephone – ring up shops, explain what you’re looking for, ask about alternatives, ask about prices, and special offers.
You could also check speciality magazines. These can provide reviews and price comparisons for many different products.
Supermarket Savvy!!! Firstly, when going shopping, make a list, and stick to those items only.
Secondly, remember that buying “store” or “own” brand can save a bundle. In many instances, the store brand is actually a name brand with a store label. The container or packaging may not be beautiful, but does that really matter?
Finally, don’t automatically throw out the vouchers that get posted in your door, or are included in magazines and newspaper advertising – they may actually save you money on items that you normally buy anyway.
Telephone Buzz! Before changing call providers, you should first review your bills for a number of months and work out your telephone usage. Maybe even ask yourself if you really need a fixed line phone if you already have a mobile phone as well.
By better understanding your phone usage, you’ll be in a better position to find the best deal from the many alternatives that are out there today. It may also put you in a position to take advantage of the new trend of selling “bundling” minutes of telephone calls (e.g. peak, off-peak or weekend) on top of your basic line rental cost.
Used Cars – Buying a used car can be one of our biggest purchases, and can sometimes be one of the riskiest, if you’re not careful.
Always make sure you know what you’re buying – check the relevant documentation. Have an independent person (such as the AA) check out the car for you if you’ve decided you like what you see.
A simple thing such as checking out a car at the sellers residence, and getting their landline phone number as opposed to mobile, can give you an extra level of confidence in what you’re getting yourself into.
Vocalise your opinions – As a nation, we find it very hard to complain to businesses or service providers if we have a problem. We need to change our ways, and can do this by starting small, and gaining confidence in letting people know our views.
A particular www.valueireland.com tip is that if you’ve had an enjoyable experience, why not let the people who’ve served you know? Practicing by giving good feedback to businesses can help us gain confidence when we have to eventually give someone some less than positive feedback.
WWW – There are many national and international sites that provide reviews and information on many of the goods, services, and hospitality businesses in Ireland, and allow us purchase them online.
The key is to build up as much information as possible in advance so that you can make an informed decision in your own best interests.
X for your candidate of choice – If you’re blaming the Government for “Rip-Off Ireland” – make sure you let them know in any forthcoming elections. If you don’t agree with the policies of your Government or the results of their policies on prices, then change your Government. Go out and vote for change, instead of just complaining about it.
Your Money – Your Choice. In most things, it’s down to your own personal choice where you spend your money. If you decide to pay a certain amount for a pint, and you enjoy it in pleasant surroundings, with good service, then don’t complain afterwards about the price of the drink.
If you don’t want to pay the price, go somewhere else. If you do pay the price (as it’s obviously acceptable to you when you hand over your money), what’s the point in complaining after the fact?
Zealous – Defined as “active interest and enthusiasm”. Do we mostly “put up AND shut up” in the face of rip-off tactics by Irish businesses? Should Irish consumers not take more of an “active interest” in their day-to-day shopping experiences in order to avoid these rip-off businesses and to reward those alternative businesses offering value, quality and service?
Eventually, though word of mouth, and the use of forum such as www.valueireland.com, the rip-off businesses will lose their customers in droves, and will suddenly realise that they need to something to keep their customers, or else go out of business.
Eventually, as Irish consumers, we have to realise that we have that power to have such an impact on businesses in our own hands, or wallets and purses at least.