Buying electronics for Christmas? Watch out for grey imports without local warranty

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Buying online has many advantages, especially at this time of year when you’re looking to make your money cover as many presents as possible. It’s usually cheaper than purchasing stuff in-store, and you have access to a much larger range than you’ll find on shop shelves. Plus, you don’t have to sit in traffic trying to get into a busy mall, or wait in the festively depressing checkout queues

There is, however, an element of caveat emptor when buying online: always make sure that you check the fine print before committing to a purchase. Especially if you’re looking at buying electronics.

Take Samsung phones, for example. You might well be looking to get one for a relative or treating yourself to a new one in time for Christmas. One of their key selling points for us is the excellent Accidental Damage from Handling (ADH) warranty, which offers customers in Africa extra protection from water damage and screen breakages. Other manufacturers are cottoning on to the value of this and introducing similar coverage.

However, if you buy a Samsung Galaxy S5 from online retailer Kalahari.com, you might not be eligible for ADH warranty – unless you read the fine print on specific products.

A reader of htxt.africa told us that he bought a S5 smartphone through the retailer, but when he wanted to register the EMEI number with Samsung to be covered by the ADH warranty, the registration process informed him that the EMEI number doesn’t match Samsung’s database of South African smartphones. The result: he’ll be unable to make use of Samsung’s excellent ADH policy when his smartphone is in need of a repair.

Are the Galaxy S5 smartphones sold on Kalahari.com grey imports? Well… yes, kind of.

According to Kirby Gordon, Kalahari.com’s head of brand and communication, its common practice to import units from other regions if the local supplier is unable to provide enough stock.

“Sometimes, often on popular electronics brands, the official local suppliers are unable to meet our demand for some products, so what we do is import these products in parallel to the official suppliers. It’s a very standard practice, but the law does insist that we make it very clear that these products are imported in parallel,” Gordon explained.

Gordon stressed that Kalahari.com does make a clear note of this on the product description pages.

The official wording of the notice does state that it has been imported without Samsung’s approval.

“PLEASE NOTE: that these goods have been imported without the approval of the manufacturer or its licensed supplier. Therefore these goods will…” And that is where the message cuts off.

Unless a potential buyer clicks on the ‘more’ option, they won’t see the rest of the message, which continues “…not be covered by the warranty of the manufacturer or its licensed supplier. However, the 1 year warranty will be covered by Kalahari.com in partnership with our vendor.”

Although it does state that it is an import, all is not lost if you find yourself in the same position. Gordon acknowledges that customers won’t come into contention for the ADH warranty, but was keen to explain that it will honour the 1 year warranty.

“Because of the parallel import, the customers EMEI number would not have been matched to the official suppliers list of numbers for SA. As per the wording above though, we, together with our vendor, do honour the one year warranty on these devices.”

Many countries worldwide – particularly within the European Union – now mandate a two-year warranty for consumer electronics. In South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA), Section 56 states “all goods sold to a consumer are sold with an implied warranty of quality, that cannot be contracted out of or revoked…” which amounts to giving you six months to return the goods.

As far as grey imports go, Section 25 (2) of the CPA  states that “a person who markets any goods that bear a trade mark, but have been imported without the approval or licence of the registered owner of that trade mark, must apply a conspicuous notice to those goods in the prescribed manner and form.”

The Act gives guidelines on what the “prescribed manner and form” should be:

Disclosure of reconditioned or grey market goods
(1) The notice contemplated in subsections (1) and (2) of section 25 of the Act and meeting the requirements of section 22 of the Act must be applied-
(a) in a place on the goods and the marketing material of the goods where a consumer is likely to see that notice; and
(b) in an easily legible size and manner,
to the goods and all forms of advertising or promotion, including in-store promotions, packaging, websites and brochures, when these goods are advertised or promoted, stating clearly that they have been reconditioned, rebuilt or remade, as the case may be.
(2) The supplier must when selling the goods to the consumer-
(a) expressly draw his or her attention to the notice prescribed in subregulation (1);
(b) in plain language explain the meaning of the notice to the consumer; and
(c) the notice contemplated in section 25(2) of the Act and meeting the requirements of section 22 of the Act must be applied-
(i) in a place on the goods and the marketing material of the goods where a consumer is likely to see that notice; and
(ii) in an easily legible size and manner;
to the goods and all forms of advertising or promotion, including in-store promotions, packaging, websites and brochures, when these goods are advertised or promoted, stating clearly, if the goods bear a trade mark, that they have been imported without the approval or licence of the registered owner of that trade mark and that no guarantee or warranty in respect of such goods will be honoured or fulfilled by any official or licensed importer of such goods.

That means Kalahari.com’s disclaimer is on the right side of the law.

Gordon added that “generally customers are really happy with the availability, quality and price of our supply,” while indicating that they have had few issues of a similar nature.

“This is not a common query as we take every caution that we can to allow people to understand that this is a parallel import.”

While Kalahari.com can argue that consumers who don’t spot the notices only have themselves to blame, though, not all online stores are as transparent about where their goods come from.

Take French mobile phone company Orange’s South African store, for example. It specialises in selling phones and tablets which aren’t officially available here, like Google’s Nexus 5 and a range of Wiko smartphones. It also competes extraordinarily well on price for handsets which are widely available, often undercutting other stores for flagship phones by R2 000 or more.

Nearly all of its stock – to the best of our knowledge – is imported on demand from overseas, usually Europe. And it’s not clear anywhere on the Orange shopping pages that phones are imported and buyers won’t qualify for the manufacturer warranty in South Africa.

“In terms of our compliance in accordance with the CPA, this is handled by our legal department to ensure our compliance in all markets where we operate various activities. Our T&Cs do provide for the necessary info dealing with Samsung products but also all products globally as the majority of our products are imported (we continue to increase the amount of products we source locally versus when we started early in 2013),” said Blake Levitan, country manager for Orange Horizons South Africa.

Orange’s T&Cs do mention that it will only provide a six month warranty on goods – the minimum under South African law – and for those phones which are shipped in you can forget about extended warranties from local manufacturers’ offices. We have raised the issue with Orange and encouraged the firm that it should make its warnings to consumers clearer as per the guidelines in the CPA.

As we said before, for the most part Orange is really, really cheap. Whether that economy is worth the risk of it breaking down after June 2015 is up to you – we’d almost certainly recommend getting third party insurance, though.

So the question remains. Should you buy from these places this Christmas? By all means – just remember that if you’re getting a deal below regular retail prices there’s probably a catch somewhere along the way.

Charlie Fripp

Charlie Fripp

Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.

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