Consumer rights and protection issues small business should be aware

Consumers have a great deal of clout these days and they can seek remedies not only to recover the cost of actual loss but also, in some cases, can recover additional punitive damages. The notion of "caveat emptor"-- that buyers take responsibility for what they purchase used to be the law of the marketplace. Not anymore! Today, consumers have clout and they are more empowered in today's marketplace taking charge of their circumstances and standing against violators of their consumer rights.  Business owners must familiarize themselves with consumer rights and also with consumer protection laws and regulations. These laws and regulations set and guide the parameters within which the supplier/consumer relationships should be established and being cognizant of these would reduce the business risk of liability to the consumer.


There are several issues that small-business owners should consider addressing when it comes to consumer interaction. These include but are not limited to advertising, retail pricing and return policies, warranties, and consumer protection laws. Advertising promotes consumer choice and increases value for consumers.  It enables consumers to know about the distinct products and services offered in the marketplace in satisfaction of the consumers' diverse needs, wants, tastes and preferences. As a result, they are able to select from a much broader range of options than would otherwise be the case, in effect, exercising their right to choose. So when advertising here are some helpful tips:


  1. Do not promise more than a product will deliver. If a product will remove some but not all types of stains, list only those that your product will affect.
  2. Have sufficient quantities of the advertised items in stock or clearly state that "Quantities are limited" in your advertisement;
  3. Be careful about advertising something as "free" while having full knowledge that it is not free.
  4. If you advertise credit terms, always provide all details such as down payment amount, terms of repayment, annual interest rate and so on as stipulated in the Consumer Credit Act No. 29, 2006.


False advertising is an infraction of the consumers' right to receive truthful and honest information about products and services, for which a penalty is levied.


Consumer/supplier relationships can be strained if one party to the consumer agreement is unclear of the terms and agreements binding the relationship. For instance, the consumer needs to be clear about the store's policy on returns and in particular refunds and exchanges. The policy should be clearly stated in an ideal location in the shop or on the receipts issued to the customer. Clearly, articulated policies eliminate ambiguities and of course help to reduce conflict between suppliers and consumers. Moreover, business policies must be fair and balanced and should not aim to absolve the supplier of liability to the consumer in circumstances where the consumer complaint is bona fide and warrants redress. Providing excellent customer service is integral in sustaining the profitability of any business.


In offering warranties to consumers there are two basic types which need to be highlighted: express and implied. Express warranties are statements or promises about a product or about a promise to correct defects or malfunctions in a product. These can be either oral or in writing. Claims in product literature or in advertisements may be considered a warranty. Implied warranties on the other hand do not stem from anything said either orally or in writing. They are automatically assumed whenever a product is sold. For example, it is assumed that a refrigerator will keep items within a cool or frozen state. Implied warranties automatically guarantee that the product is fit for its intended purpose placing the guarantee of warranties on the supplier or vendor. Honoring warranties validates the supplier or vendor's commitment to the consumer agreement, that the products or service meet or even exceed consumer expectations.


Consumer protection laws place considerable power in the hands of buyers and it obligates businesses to ensure the supply of good quality products and maintain high standard of service to consumers. Because of the economic disparity which exists between consumers and suppliers, consumer protection agencies such as the Saint Lucia Bureau of standards (SLBS), and the Consumer Affairs Department (CAD) have been institutionalized in order to promote and protect consumer welfare. The National Consumer Association, a non-governmental organization consumer advocacy group, spawned to campaign on issues impacting and affecting consumers. The Consumer Affairs Department within the Ministry of Commerce receives and investigates consumer complaints and takes action on any matter which adversely or has the potential to adversely impact the consumer. The department polices the Distribution and Price of Goods Act No.35, 2006 and is in the process of having enacted a Consumer Protection Bill which will provide more wholesome consumer protection to consumers in Saint Lucia. The Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards is mandated under the Standards Act No.14, 1990 to act when it relates to issues of quality and standards. The bureau takes action to ensure that products are compliant and meet national and international standards.


Businesses, whether small or large, must always promote and encourage fairness and competition in marketplace. At all times providers of goods and services should ensure that all contracts are fair and reasonable in the mutual interest of supplier and consumer. Remember that the consumer has rights and so the onus is placed on the supplier to be informed on the rights of consumers and ensuring that his/her staff appreciate and respect them. Failure to do so can result in dire consequences for business image and profitability.


Consumer Affairs Department

Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Consumer Affairs

Heraldine Rock Building

Waterfront, Castries



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