We’ve all been in the following situation – you’re window shopping at a mall and a promotor stops you. You tell them you are not interested in whatever spiel they have but right before you walk away, you hear them frantically going, “But wait sir. I have a special offer just for you”.
Intrigued, you stay on. The offer does sound really awesome; for just 20 extra bucks a month, you get to triple your monthly data limit. However, like any other responsible adult, you would like some time to mull about the extra costs so you tell the promoter that you would think about it and get back to them.
“Sure thing but the offer is only valid until tonight.” You stutter and say that it’s already 4.30pm but the promoter just shrugs his shoulder.
Isn’t it illegal for them to do this? To bait you and tempt you?
Let’s take a look at Malaysia’s consumer protection laws
Some of you may not know that Malaysia actually has its own consumer protection law which is found in the Consumer Protection Act 1999 (“CPA 1999”). The CPA 1999 covers a wide area of issues such as making it illegal for businesses to present bait advertising or misrepresent things or even provide goods and services which are unsafe.
Here’s the thing; it’s actually not illegal for them to tempt you a special offer that is for a limited time only.
The eagle-eyed reader might have spotted that bait advertising is illegal under the CPA 1999 and wonder if that’s the same thing...it’s not.
Bait advertising in the CPA 1999 relates to when a seller offers to supply goods which he has no intention of supplying. In our case, the seller has every intention to supply it but the catch is, you have a short time to say yes.
You might wonder, how is it legal for them to “coerce” you into a deal?
It goes back to basic contract law
Contracts 101 tells us that in every arrangement, there is an offer that is accepted by that counter party and that creates a contract (remember, not every contract has to be written; there can be verbal contracts).
An offer can come with a time limit. For example, the offer can stipulate that it will expire within a month’s time or a week or even an hour. If you fail to accept the offer within the time limit set, then the offer would have lapsed.
In the telemarketer’s scenario, they would have made you an offer that comes with a time limit and you would have to accept the offer within the time stipulated.
What happens if they fail to set a time limit? Without a time limit, an offer is only valid for a “reasonable time”. What is reasonable would depend on what is being sold or offered; you can’t disappear for a year and respond that you want to sign up for that plan.
Now that you know it’s legal for them to tempt you, what can you do?
Be a savvy consumer
It’s easy to be tempted into buying more things than you need or signing up for packages that seem like a steal but are really more than you need. However, the question to really ask is, time limit on the offer or not, do you really need that thing you are eyeing or are you just pushed into buying it because of the time limit?
On a side note, if you have truly been maligned by a seller, Malaysia has its own Consumer Tribunal where you can submit complaints and claims. You can go to one of their branches nearby, or if you prefer, you can even sign up and do it online.