Vaal Triangle independent retailers' perceived awareness versus actual knowledge of the Consumer Protection Act
Van Schalkwyk, Pieter Jacobus
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Over the past two decades, South Africa has introduced several laws regulating business and providing protection to consumers. These include the Competition Act (89 of 1998), the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (25 of 2002), the National Credit Act (34 of 2005), and the Consumer Protection Act (68 of 2008) (CPA). The CPA was implemented to conform to international best practice regarding consumer law, to replace the existing but outdated laws, and most importantly, to provide protection to vulnerable consumers (Department of Trade and Industry, 2004:14; Rampersad & Reddy, 2012:7407). The importance of protecting vulnerable consumers can be attributed to South Africa’s history of discrimination and excluding the majority of the population from quality education and equal opportunities in the marketplace (Rampersad & Reddy, 2012:7407). However, the CPA is of small value to consumers if it is not generally known and applied; thus, consumers will continue to be at the mercy of retailers who very often do not have their best interests at heart. Therefore, this study was undertaken to measure the awareness and knowledge of the CPA among retailers. The research was done among small independent retailers located in shopping malls in the Vaal Triangle, South Africa. The study followed a quantitative approach, using a self-administered questionnaire to obtain a single cross-sectional sample. From the data gathered, it is clear that most of the participants considered themselves well informed regarding consumer rights; 88 present of the participants indicated that they are familiar with the nine consumer rights contained in the CPA. However, this stands in stark contrast to the results obtained in the section measuring the actual knowledge of the CPA; only 49 present of the participants managed to answer more than half of the questions correctly, and none answered more than 70 present correctly. In addition, the participants seemed to score higher on those rights that existed before the CPA came into effect, and lower on the new rights introduced by the Act. This seems to indicate that retailers are not yet familiar with the Act; it is, therefore, unlikely that they do business in a manner that complies with the CPA, which robs consumers of the benefit and protection of the Act. Of the retailers who participated in this study, 72 present said they believe the CPA is necessary to protect consumers. This would seem to indicate that it is the lack of knowledge rather that real resistance to the Act which is standing in the way of wider compliance. Therefore, steps should be taken with utmost urgency to educate and increase awareness of the Act, both among retailers and consumers.