Consumers are a very important component of every marketing system. As end users of goods and services, consumers play key roles in the economic development of nations. They demand, pay for and use goods and services, which motivate businesses to produce and, in turn, offer employment to people. In addition, consumers provide important feedback that facilitate product improvements and developments and attract new customers.
However, being a consumer is becoming increasingly complex and challenging. As globalization, competition, urbanization, and the use of digital technologies increase, consumers are being bombarded with a wide variety of products and services from across the globe. Some consumers could be exposed to thousands of pieces of confusing information and other risks of using the internet. Thus, consumer protection has become very important more than ever before. While many countries have government agencies responsible for protecting consumers, it is paramount for consumers to be able to protect themselves. The first step consumers can take in this direction is to know their rights and responsibilities.
Rights of Consumers
John Kennedy’s consumer bill of rights, which emerged from a speech he presented to the United States Congress in 1962 established four basic consumer rights which include the right to safety, right to be informed, right to choose, and right to be heard. In recognition of the need for an international approach to consumer protection, the United Nations (UN) developed some guidelines for consumer protection. The guidelines known as the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP) was adopted by the General Assembly on 16th April, 1985
Since its adoption, the UN has continued to expand, review and amend the UNGCP. The Guidelines emphasise that national policies for consumer protection should encourage good business practices; provide consumer information that are clear, timely and concise as well as processes and mechanisms that are clear, transparent, safe and secure. The guidelines also emphasize the need for member states to ensure physical safety of consumers; appropriate standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and services; appropriate distribution of facilities for essential consumer goods and services; fair, effective, transparent, and impartial mechanisms for dispute resolution and redress; and effective consumer education programmes. The guidelines also encourage member states to promote and protect the economic interest of consumers; promote sustainable consumption and encourage the use of ecommerce and financial services.
Based on the foregoing, many countries have enacted consumer protection laws and have clearly spelt out the rights and responsibilities of consumers. In Nigeria, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), the agency responsible for consumer protection, states that consumers have rights to:
Responsibilities of Consumers
Consumers also have responsibilities. The responsibilities are the duties that consumers should perform, including respect for the rights of others. The responsibilities of consumers are as important as their rights. Therefore, while consumers should endeavor to know and defend their rights, they should also be eager to know and perform their responsibilities. Creating a balance between rights and responsibilities contributes to making every entity in the distribution chain satisfied and successful. According to the FCCPC, consumers have responsibility to:
Similar Consumer Rights and Responsibilities Exist in Other Countries
Given that countries draw from international sources, similar rights and responsibilities are obtainable in countries in Africa and other continents. For example, the Jamaican Consumer Affairs Commission states that consumers have right to: satisfaction of basic needs, safety and protection from hazardous goods or services, be informed; choose, be heard, redress, consumer education, and a healthy environment. the Commission also stated that consumers have responsibility to: be aware, think independently and make choices, speak out, complain and inform businesses and other consumers of dissatisfaction with a product or service in a fair and honest manner, be an ethical consumer, and to respect the environment. Similarly, the Department of Consumer Affairs of India states that consumers have the right to safety, be informed, choose, be heard, seek redress, and consumer education.
All consumers, irrespective of their economic, psychological and educational standing, should have the right to choose from a variety of valuable, safe and non-hazardous products; right to information and education adequate for taking consumption decisions, and right to seek redress and be heard. In the same vein, consumers are expected to be responsible by seeking for important product information and staying well-informed; Providing information which may be helpful to others by sharing experiences, giving feedback on goods and services they patronize; and making their expectations known to vendors and government and respecting the environment.
The knowledge and respect of consumer rights and responsibilities help Consumers gain access to reliable and unbiased information about the products they buy and use. With dependable information, consumers are able to make the best purchase decisions and protect themselves from deceit. In the same way, knowing and respecting consumer rights can help businesses treat customers fairly and as a result, gain solid reputation, become more in demand, and gain customer loyalty. This makes the businesses experience more growth and higher competitiveness, and ultimately leads to a better society for everyone.
However, awareness of consumer rights and responsibilities in Nigeria may be low. The FeedbackHall’s 2019 Digital Consumer Survey found that more than half of the respondents did not know they had the right to representation (66%); right to consumer education (59%); and right to redress (52%). There is no doubt that companies and consumer protection agencies are making efforts to protect consumer rights, but realities on ground suggest that there is need to intensify consumer education and sensitization efforts in Nigeria. In this regard, we reiterate our 2019 recommendation:
“A most fundamental action is making consumer education and sensitization more inclusive. An inclusive consumer education and sensitization is the kind that is designed to cover all types of consumers – those who are educated and those who are not; those who use adequate common sense and those who do not; those who are experienced internet users and those who are not; those who are desperate and those who are not. Since education, common sense, experience, and patience are not requirements for people to become customers, they should not be requirements for the customers to come under the customer protection umbrella” (https://www.feedbackhall.com/blog/2019-consumer-survey)
FeedbackHall Limited is a customer feedback service, registered in Nigeria. The Firm develops and markets the feedbackhall.com website and feedbackhall mobile app available on Play Store and App Store. The platforms are structured, convenient and affordable means for consumers and businesses to give and receive feedback on goods and services.
In addition, with a team of smart, passionate and well-trained professionals, FeedbackHall offers best-in-class, authentic and insightful research services. The firm leverages its fast-growing community which has active members across Nigeria and abroad to provide real time reliable and actionable, difficult-to-find customer intelligence at a speed that has never been imagined.
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