Women cry foul of businesses breaking contracts to protect their profits

Big businesses in Zimbabwe are evading the economic sting to their businesses by breaking contracts with their clients on previously agreed accounts, lay bys and promotional terms and conditions.

Over the past weeks in which Zimbabwe’s economy has been in a tailspin, big companies like TV Sales and Home, Edgars, Pick and Pay and Medical Aid societies among others, have reportedly been rescinding on previously agreed contracts leaving many clients stranded and without an idea what measures to take against these conglomerates.

Female consumers who spoke to Amakhosikazi said they felt vulnerable and violated by these companies who were suddenly leaving them in the open during a crisis. Josphene Tshabalala  told Amakhosikazi that she had terms changed and prices for a bed she had been paying for over sometime through layby, changed from as little as $400 (bond) to a staggering $4000 without notice.

“When I asked them if they could refund me the money I had paid to them so far they said they would have to deduct a certain percentage from the amount as tax and administration costs. This would leave me with a useless amount which I cannot use to go and purchase a bed elsewhere” she said. “I feel like I was used because obviously they have used my money to buy more stock but how a bed kept in storage on layby suddenly changes price without it being remanufactured makes no sense to me” she added sounding dejected.

Another client of a furniture company says she was told days after paying a deposit on an account for a bed that it would not be delivered as promised and expected because the company had frozen all accounts with immediate effect.

“I tried to reason with the branch manager that they had kept my money for over two weeks while inflation ate at it only for them to tell me, after I had to visit their shop again, that they would no longer be honouring the agreement signed.” said Felicia Ndlukula.

“At first they said prices had changed so I had to change the form to reflect a higher deposit and I went and looked for more money. When I returned they took the money only to then tell me stories weeks later” she added.

Edgars clients told Amakhosikazi that they had started receiving text messages telling them that from the end of October their interest free accounts would start to attract a 2,5% monthly interest on the balance. However a few days later another message was then sent telling them to disregard the first message. Women make up a large portion of Edgar’s account holders and would in no doubt have been hardest hit by the new interest on instalments, many of which run for as long as 12 months. Many clients argue the reason they took long term accounts was their interest free clause which has now been breached because the company’s message says new purchases will carry the 2,5% interest charge.

A follow up message from Edgars stores

Crying as loud are women who have been colleting non-stick pans and pot stickers after shopping at Pick and Pay. Some shoppers who had been on a waiting list to receive some of their pots when they started to run out , say they received phone calls from the supermarket chain, informing them that due to the demand by the pots’ suppliers for US dollars they were converting these to shopping vouchers. However many were disappointed when they realised that the vouchers were not equivalent in value to what they expected.

“I expected to get hundreds of dollars worth of vouchers, however I was told I would be getting a US$10 groceries voucher yet I have over 20 stickers each worth $5” said Praise Moto a disappointed shopper. She added, “ I spent months avoiding cheaper supermarkets just so I could get these pots from Pick n Pay. Now they are telling me the pots are only equal in value to $10? This is crazy.”

The medical sector has not been spared and may be the hardest hit as pharmarcies are now demanding payment in US dollars while refusing to take medical aid cards. Multiple medical aid schemes have been sending letters of regret to clients stating that they would now be required to pay their instalments in US dollars or cash upon treatment as they too were now failing to make payments to medical institutions in Bond or RTGS.

A memo sent to health institutions requesting payments be made in US$

A lawyer approached by Amakhosikazi to find out if businesses had a right to do this to clients said consumers could sue these shops for breach of contract but only if these changes were not in line with their terms and conditions and some of the fine print in the joining forms which many clients neglect to read.

“It is possible to take these big shops to court for breach of contract because it is not the consumer who should bear their liabilities. Shops as big as these must always be insured against such eventualities and should always be insulated by such against an economic collapse than to pull the rug from under the consumer’s feet.” He said. ” I would suggest that those who feel aggrieved band together and get some thorough legal advice on the matter.” He added.

Another expert on commercial law advised that customers must always read the fine print and be ready to refer to the contents of such when aggrieved.

“The problem with many people is they do not read the fine print on agreements and these often hide a lot of protective clauses for the business which leave the customers vulnerable.” he said adding, “This may be just what happened here. Many clients will find that they have no case because the companies have protected themselves through the fine print”