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When is a good deal really a lemon? Sometimes the biggest bargains come with the heaviest hidden costs, thanks to unclear warranties that cover little when things go wrong. Faulty goods and ambiguous warranties are one of the greatest bugbears for consumers and retailers. A new ISO standard in development aims to help.

Faulty goods and substandard services are a significant cost, both to the consumer and society as a whole. A UK study, for example, showed that problems with unsatisfactory goods and services set the country back more than 6 billion pounds per year, not to mention the time wasted and stress created*.

In addition, problems with warranties and failure to rectify faulty goods are a significant generator of consumer complaints. In Malaysia, for example, the National Consumer Complaints Centre receives more than 40 000 complaints each year, many of which stem from unclear warranty terms. Issues include warranties not valid in different countries and disputes over responsibility, resulting in consumers being bounced from manufacturer to retailer, often leaving a bitter taste in their mouth.

A new standard being developed aims to remove confusion and frustration by providing guidelines for clear and effective consumer warranties, improving confidence for purchasers, retailers and manufacturers, and smoothing the way for better trade.

Saral James Maniam, Secretary of the newly formed ISO project committee ISO/PC 303 that is developing the standard, led by Standards Malaysia, ISO’s member for the country, said the exponential growth potential of e-commerce that crosses international boundaries increases the need for clarifying consumer rights in terms of warranties and guarantees.

“Despite numerous laws and regulations related to consumer rights, warranties and guarantees remain a significant problem. This standard aims to put in place international benchmarks that not only give consumers a minimum level of redress, but reduce purchasing risks and provide a competitive advantage for brands,” she said.

“It can also serve as a basis to reinforce laws and regulations and clarify responsibilities when goods and services don’t work as intended.”

The new standard will be developed with guidance drawn from ISO/IEC Guide 14:2003, Purchase information on goods and services intended for consumers, with the input of numerous consumer and standardization experts around the world.

If you are interested in getting involved in the development of the new standard, please contact your national ISO member.

*Office of Fair Trading, Consumer Detriment: Assessing the frequency and impact of consumer problems with goods and services (April 2008).

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Clare Naden
Clare Naden

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