Why is it that showrooms selling consumer durables seldom do delivery and installation on the same day? After buying a new television, refrigerator, air conditioner or washing machine, any customer will have a legitimate expectation of being able to use it immediately. However, if the current 'norm' is anything to go by, one has to invariably wait for the technician to turn up and parrot what exists in the instructions manual, making it appear as if he is launching a satellite!
While products like air conditioners may need 'installation', the other 'plug and play' goods like TV sets can jolly well do without red tape. A local electrician or carpenter on call will not be able to do the job as the manufacturer usually retains certain parts like, for instance, clamps for wall mountable TV sets. Is it so difficult to hand over the products, with the entire kit at the time of payment? On that count, those who buy in installments are better covered! A local electrician can 'install' these gadgets, if the product is handed over in its entirety. Imagine a mobile store selling the latest handset to you without the charger on the ground that a technician will visit you later with the rest of the kit to give you a demo! For other products cited above, isn't that demo given by the sales staff at the store itself?
Strangely, most customers get to know about the time frame for delivery, in cases of a shortage of inventory, or the installation, only after completing the billing formalities. The moment you pay for the product and walk out of the store, the retailer, ostensibly tired after the glib sales talk, will wash his hands off. The onus is then on the customer to follow up with the installation team. It could take a couple of days to a week for them to show up. And there are wheels within wheels. The manufacturer in turn, would have outsourced installation to a third party. That's another readymade ruse to deflect accountability in cases of disputes. Punctuality is often a casualty. So you may be forced to end up waiting for the installation.
Delays are a big turn-off. That's not the only downside. The customer is always asked to sign at the bottom of the invoice which will have a clause, usually in minuscule print, that the product has been duly inspected and is in perfect condition. Yes, right! Customers have x-ray eyes to scan fully packed carton boxes for defects! However, most of us don't even read this but sign on the dotted line. All this may constitute an unfair trade practice under Section 2(1) (r) of the Consumer Protection Act. How would the customer know if the packed item that he carries out of a store is "of a particular standard, quality, quantity, grade, composition, style or model" as contained in sub section (i) of the provision? How can he be sure that the retailer has not "falsely represented any re-built, second-hand, renovated, reconditioned or old goods as new goods", as enumerated in sub section (iii)? These may not be regular scenarios as there is always an element of trust in business but they cannot be ruled out.
The installation rigmarole is not confined to showroom sales. Even online transactions are riddled with the same practice. The West Bengal State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in Dr. Jay Prakash Gupta Vs Flipkart Internet Pvt. Ltd dealt with a delay in installation of a microwave oven and awarded compensation to the consumer. The Commission held that "the sine qua non for entitlement of compensation is proof of loss or injury suffered by the consumer due to the negligence of the opposite party. Once the said conditions are satisfied, the Consumer Forum would have to decide the quantum of compensation to which the consumer is entitled. There cannot be any dispute that the computation of compensation has to be fair, reasonable and commensurate to the loss or injury. There is a duty cast on the Consumer Forum to take into account all relevant factors for arriving at the compensation to be paid."
It appears that installation blues have not been adequately tested in consumer fora. This is reason enough for consumers to be more vigilant and aware of their rights. Now, pass me the remote, please. Oh I forgot, the installation team will bring it. Whenever.
(The writer is an advocate at the Madras high court, columnist & author)...