As we head into fall and all the significant shopping events, I want to remind all my friends to Caveat Emptor. I know most people prefer Carpe Diem, which is fine – carpe away! Just remember to be a wise consumer and Caveat Emptor, too.
What is Caveat Emptor?
Caveat Emptor was a phrase I learned about in Econ 101 back in community college. It is Latin for Buyer Beware. I like it because it reminds me to be a little skeptical sometimes. A little reflection time before purchasing can help us avoid a financial mistake. Think of it as saying: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Common sense, right? But told in Latin, it sounds imposing.
What Should a Buyer Beware Of?
I would say that every buying choice requires some amount of reflection, but some more than others. Day-to-day purchases like replenishing the staples in our kitchen cabinets might take a small amount of thought:
- Do I need more of this?
- How often do we use/eat it?
- Can I use all of this before the expiration?
- Can I/we afford it?
Other items might take a bit more reflection:
- Sale items: Would I still buy this if it wasn’t on sale? Will I really use it?
- Do I need this, or do I just want it?
- Is the money I plan to spend on this already allocated elsewhere in my budget?
- Where will I store it?
- How often do I have to maintain it, and how much will that cost?
- Have I researched and found a reliable/energy efficient/appropriate item that suits my needs?
- Are the seller’s claims reasonable? Researchable? Reviewed?
- Is this a valid website with a secure payment option?
- Is this app selling items cheap to entice into sharing too much personal and consumer information?
What Do I Do If I Failed to Beware?
At one time or another, we forget to reflect and make a wrong buying decision. It happens, and hopefully, we learn from the situation. Again, there are different levels of learning from our consumer experiences.
- My family didn’t like that brand/product. I won’t buy that again.
- Next time, I’ll read more reviews before booking/purchasing online.
- Can I return this and get my money back? Can the seller make it right?
This is why we must keep receipts, including assurances or guarantees. Find a place in your home where you hold receipts and warranties until they expire, contracts, and other essential consumer documents. Most of those things expire, so sift through that place periodically and recycle that old paperwork.
- Do I need to file a complaint? To who?
It is essential to know how to complain effectively. Have your details ready, whether face to face, by phone, or through a website. Know your date of purchase, have your paper trail, and document who you are speaking to and what they say. Also, be ready to state what you feel a proper resolution would be so they can attempt to satisfy you. Be prepared to listen as well. If you, the consumer, fail to note the terms of return at purchase, you don’t get to change those terms afterward to suit your needs. Take note of statements referring to store credit or restocking fees. They must make you aware of it, like a placard or small print. If you fail to find it – that’s on you, my friend.
How to Complain Effectively
You will have to decide how to voice a complaint. Is a lousy review enough? Caveat emptor, my friend, and caveat reviewer as well. Be substantive in your description and fair in your rating. Accept any responsibility you had in the situation, and don’t be personal. Personal, as in don’t provide personally identifying information (like your address or phone number). Also, unique, as in personal attacks, are not appropriate. This is a business situation and should be handled in a businesslike manner.
Besides a review on the seller’s website, you might opt for a broader platform like the Better Business Bureau. There are other service provider-focused websites where an informed review might be effective.
If you believe you were a fraud victim and not just a lousy decision-maker, file a complaint with a higher power. In Florida, our state Chief Financial Officer has a website to file a fraud complaint. Go to https://flofr.gov/. You can also verify a Florida licensed service provider there, so it’s a handy website for Florida consumers to bookmark. On a national level, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau also provide a place to report fraud and bad business practices.
In the long run, research and reflection can go a long way toward a positive buying experience. Be a savvy consumer and question claims that sound too good to be true. If you spend a little time at Caveat Emptor, you might have more time for Carpe Diem.