Retailers refuse to give us change

This post originally appeared on my consumer blog, Candid Consumerism. I repost it here verbatim, because this is an issue close to my heart, as I’m sure regular readers will know. Also, this is to show how polite I am elsewhere, and this is my only outlet to write like I speak!

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Limbikani, we have been alerted to a story in yesterday’s The Herald, a paper we rarely read, let alone buy. According to the reporter, banks have been holding Rand coins because retailers, for obvious reasons, have been refusing to take them.

LOCAL banks are set to return R8 million worth of coins to South Africa that they have been holding onto since last year because retailers have resisted buying them to ease change shortages that consumers have long complained about.

Many retailers in Harare maintain an artifical exchange rate of R10 to USD1, so they wanted to receive the coins at a vastly reduced rate. This would cushion them from the loss of their profiteering racket, where people end up purchasing small goods like matches and sweets instead of receiving their change.

I am sure I don’t have to explain how dishonest and fraudulent these demands were, as everyone knows by now that retailers in Zimbabwe are a law unto themselves, and value profit over clientelle.

We believe it is time some sort of regulatory measures were taken, because consumer action will never be enough. No matter how many times we refuse to budge at the till until someone finds our change, or how many shop managers we berate, we often deal with just employees who do not set policy or have any actual power to do the right thing.

Often it is not an option to simply ask for our money back, and I doubt many of us have the actual will to go that far anyway. So the only solution can come from the top, as we have been crying for months with neither resolution nor recourse.

According to the latest story on this scandal, Mr Denford Mberi of the Retailers Association of Zimbabwe referred all questions to a Mr Ndebele at Truworths, who was (inevitably) unavailable for comment.

What this whole situation tells us is that retailers will do anything for their profits, instead of engaging in a fair exchange of goods for cash. Rather than accepting coins at the actual rate (currently 6.96:1) they would rather milk the desperate situation and line their pockets.

We would love for this to be a myth. We would like to think that retailers in Zimbabwe want to deal with us in a fair and balanced manner, where a purchase is made and payment is made and change is returned. It would be easy to resolve the confusion if the retailers’ representatives came clear in the press, or even responded to calls for comment from reporters, but the silence just creates the impression we’re being taken for a ride.

We have emailed this post to Denford Mberi, who is CEO of Red Star Holdings, and Bekithemba Ndebele, CEO of Truworths, for direct comment. We won’t be holding our breath, but we believe we, as consumers and the direct source of their revenue, deserve an answer.

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