‘Using customers as Advertising Agents’: Charging money for carry bags with printed logo is spurious, unfair trade practice with deceptive nature | Payback of Rs 3 with interest & compensation ordered by Consumer Forum

District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission-II, Hyderabad: A three-Member Bench of Vakkanti Narasimha Rao, President, and P.V.T.R Jawahar Babu and R.S. Rajeshree, Members, ordered More Megastore Retails Ltd. to payback Rs 3 (with interest) that were charged from the complainant as the cost of the carry bag with company’s name and logo printed on it. The Commission also ordered More Megastore pay a compensation of Rs 15,000 to the complainant.

Complaint

The complainant purchased a certain product from More Megastore. It was submitted that a plastic carry bag was supplied by More Megastore on collecting Rs 3 towards its costs. This bag had the company’s name and logo printed on it. It was alleged that More Megastore used the complainant as its advertising agent, that too at the cost of the complainant. Further, it was alleged that this amounted to unfair trade practice under Section 2(1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.

Reliance was placed on the decision of Chandigarh Consumer Court Dinesh Prasad Raturi v. Bata (India) Ltd. (CC/64/2019), which held that “the Bata Company has used the Consumer as if he is the advertisement agent of the opposite party”.

More Megastore’s Stand

The Megastore refuted all the allegations and argued that the complaint was liable to be dismissed in limine. It was submitted that More Megastore never compelled the complainant to purchase the carry bag as alleged in the complaint. It was argued that the present complaint had only been filed as a means to harass More Megastore and is being used as money-making scheme.         

Issues

The following three questions arose for determination by the Commission:

  1. Whether any deficiency of service is there or any unfair trade practice is made out upon the part of More Megastore?
  2. Whether the complainant is entitled for the relief sought?
  3. What relief?

Decision

On Points 1 and 2:

The Commission considered that the only dispute was that More Megastore had been using its consumers as its advertisement agents, by selling the carry bags to the customers with their logo without prominent prior notice and information before the customer makes his choice of patronising its retail outlets and before the customer makes his selection of goods for purchase and also without disclosing the specifications and price of the carry bags.

It was held that disclosing the price of carry bags at the payment counter seems to be undoubtedly an “unfair trade practice” under Section 2(1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 [corresponding Section 2(47) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019]. The Commission said that:

As a matter of consumer rights, the consumer has the right to know that there will be an additional cost for carry bags and also to know the silent specifications and price of the carry bags, before he exercises his choice of patronising a particular retail outlet before he makes his selection of goods for purchase from the said retail outlet.

Reliance was placed on the decision of the National Consumer Disputed Redressal Commission in Big Bazaar (Future Retail Ltd.) v. Ashok Kumar, 2020 SCC OnLine NCDRC 495.

Points 1 and 3 were finally answered by stating More Megastore is selling the plastic bags having their company logo and using the customers as tool of their advertisement that leads to adoption of unfair trade practice apart from deceptive nature of services and committal of spurious acts that are highly objectionable.

On Point 3:

The Commission directed More Megastore to:

  1. Provide free carry bags to all customers if in case they printed their company logo on the carry bags.
  2. However, More Megastore is at liberty to charge for the plain carry bags, with prior intimation and consent of consumers and by displaying the information at conspicuous places in the business premises.
  3. Pay back Rs 3 which were charged to the complainant with interest at the rate of 12% p.a. from 1-6-2019 (the date of purchase) till its realisation.
  4. Pay Rs 15,000 towards compensation for collecting Rs 3 from the complainant for the cost of carry bag having the company logo, for which the opposite party utilised the complainant as tool of their advertisement, which amounts to adoption of unfair trade practice with deceptive nature apart from spurious act.
  5. Pay Rs 1500 towards costs of the proceedings.

[Baglekar Akash Kumar v. More Megastore Retail Ltd., Consumer Case No. 310 of 2019, dated 19-2-2021]

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