Editorial | And then ... silence

You're in the shop buying the latest electronic gizmo or home appliance, awaiting the inevitable question.

"Would you like to buy an extended warranty with that?"

To which you reply: "What does it offer over and above the Consumer Guarantees Act?"

To which the assistant invariably replies with ... silence.

The reason being, as highlighted by a Consumer New Zealand investigation, that most warranties don't offer any more protection than customers already have under the law.

And many shop assistants don't know that. And neither do many customers. Which is why so many of the warranties sell. For hundreds of dollars each.

But it's dishonest, surely.

I don't blame the assistants, who don't seem to have had the training, but you can be sure the store owners know. And I also blame the Commerce Commission. It is an offence under the Fair Trading Act for retailers to try to sell an extended warranty by claiming the consumer would otherwise have no protection.

Yet it's obviously happening all the time. Consumer NZ visited stores from three national chains and found all were misinforming consumers about their legal rights.

That sounds almost like shoplifting in reverse to me.

Shoplifting that might amount to millions of dollars. A few hundred dollars at a time.

And don't fall for the line that you have to deal with the manufacturer if something goes wrong. Your contract is with the store, warranty or not.

So what is the Commerce Commission doing?

Getting tougher on sellers, according to Consumer Affairs Minister Chris Tremain. Before Parliament are laws saying consumers must be given a summary of their legal rights if being offered extended warranties. They'll have five days to cancel the warranty. Both good ideas.

Some training of staff about consumer law wouldn't go amiss either.

And sooner rather than later.

As acknowledged by Consumer NZ, some warranties do add protection over and above the law. At the moment though, it's hard to know which ones these are.

The Timaru Herald