Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Consumer rants

This is my column today.

There are lots of people in this country who make a career out of complaining about anything and everything. I’m not just referring to media people such as columnists and broadcast journalists who think ranting about what should be is their only job description. There are lots of other people out there who it seems have not only read up on their rights as consumers, they look for opportunities to assert these rights and in fact sometimes do so at the slightest provocation.

I know some people who will not think twice about asking a waiter to return their soup to the kitchen because it isn’t the right temperature or the main course back to the chef not because it is bad but simply because it does not taste the way they think it should taste. The former I can understand; the latter I find objectionable because if one wanted something to taste exactly how one would prepare it, then they should not go to restaurants and submit themselves to the ministrations of a chef but rather stay home and cook their own food.

I also know some people who are so picky about service quality that they complain about being made to wait for even just a couple of seconds or when some products didn’t come in variations and colors of their preference. They expect prompt, immediate, courteous service—even from a sidewalk vendor.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel contempt for these people particularly when the exacting and uncompromising adherence to certain product quality and service standards result in overall improvements. I may often find their pernickety amusing but I’ve always had respect for what they represent.

There are times when I fervently wish I could be like them. I may come across as some firebrand because I rant about shenanigans and skewer public officials, every now and then. In reality, however, I am a very tolerant person who tends to make allowances for the shortcomings of service providers—particularly when it is painfully obvious that they are new in their jobs or that their job descriptions require them to accept being treated like doormats.

I am particularly more tolerant of food servers—waiters or waitresses, busboys, chefs. First, because I have been warned many times by well-meaning friends that these people get back at difficult customers by spitting on the food or drinks served them. And second, because my best friend since childhood had a stint as waiter and I am aware of the difficulties they have to put up with such as serving sumptuous meals and watching people play with their food while they are about to keel over from hunger and exhaustion.

When faced with difficult situations as a consumer, I am the type who does not make a fuss. I don’t make a scene. I just walk away—never to return to the place ever again. But that doesn’t really help anyone. So I have decided to follow the urgings of some friends. Here, then, in this column are my top rants as consumers.

I don’t know about you, but on top of my list are stores where cashiers demand identification cards when one is making purchases with a credit card. Yes I am aware that it’s supposed to be a security measure that is supposed to redound to the benefit of consumers themselves. That yarn is actually crap because what it does is make cashiers become complacent when it comes to doing what really should matter in the whole transaction—verifying the consumer’s signature. In fact, some stores forgo signature verification training—which requires investment in time and money —in favor of identification checks as if identification cards are difficult to fake. When one comes to think about it, it is far more difficult to forge a signature than to produce fake identification cards.

Since I made a commitment to exercise my rights as a consumer more assertively, I will name establishments with cashiers who are notorious for such practices: National Bookstore at Harrison Plaza and a number of SM Department Stores. The funny thing is that because the bank that I work for requires all employees to wear IDs, I often shop while still wearing an ID. Being asked for identification when one is already wearing one conspicuously takes the cake for utter senselessness.

A store at the Mall of Asia called Games & Gadgets even pushes the limits of absurdity. I had a most unpleasant experience there last week when I bought a camera that was selling for a rather cheap price. Since I wasn’t carrying cash at that time, I opted to use a credit card. The whole transaction took almost an hour as they painstakingly verified the identification card I gave them, called the credit card company for further verification, and then asked me to enter personal information on a logbook despite the fact that they had already swiped my card on the machine and the transaction was already approved electronically. I felt like a criminal suspected of some felony. When I showed signs of being irritated, the cashier told me that it was company policy to do that for all transactions above 5,000 pesos. Judging by their complete ineptness, the store does not seem to have that many transactions involving more than that amount.

I also have an ax to grind against restaurants that go to town with all-you-can-eat promos but don’t refill the food containers in their buffet table.

Notorious for this is the Red Crab Restaurant in Greenbelt. My friends and I happen to love crabs so this place should be a natural hangout for us. Unfortunately, I have had three very negative experiences dining there so I am not stepping inside that place ever again. In all three incidents, there weren’t enough crabs for the number of guests they accommodated. They tended to replenish all the other food in their buffet spread but were very, very slow when it came to refilling the crab dishes—almost as if they were doing so grudgingly. The first incident should have been a warning already but we gave the restaurant a second chance. The experience was the same. We went a third time because a friend who just arrived from abroad wanted to go there. We paid the full price of a buffet that essentially was composed of rice and a few pieces of leftover crabs.

To be fair, it’s not just that restaurant that’s guilty of this practice of drawing in people through false advertising. The Cabalen chain, for example, should really put a disclaimer at the door of their restaurants telling people that it is “eat all you can while supply lasts.”

Now that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile himself has been victimized by that cell phone scam that’s been around for years, I hope that something will finally be done about it. Actually, there’s something more shocking than disappearing prepaid loads—unclear mechanics around the use of Internet accessibility and global roaming through cellular phones. I know quite a number of people who have had to fork over thousands of pesos because they didn’t know—and the service providers conveniently didn’t go out of their way to inform customers—that the service required certain procedures that needed to be complied with to enjoy more reasonable charges.

There’s actually a lot more in my list now that I have gotten started, but I will end with this: Mercury Drug suki cards that become defective after just a couple of weeks’ use. I’ve had three suki cards already—all of them conked out after just a month of use. The strange thing was that they don’t even have a system that could retrieve the points that were accumulated in each of the cards that were suddenly unreadable; they just asked me to get another card which I didn’t do anymore after the third one malfunctioned.

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