AS parents and students are busy with back to school shopping, the council would like to advise consumers on the following:
* Shop around and avoid buying all children's education items at one shop unless it means a lower shopping bill than buying from different outlets. While retailers may use promotions to encourage one-stop-shopping, it is advisable for parents to compare prices of individual items. Our book price survey in the past had shown price differences can be as high as $5 for one item thus it would be better to visit several outlets and note down prices before making a purchase. While this exercise may be time-consuming and requires some walking, parents will be able to have less pressure on their back-to-school budgets.
* Pre-plan the schooling needs of your child. Distinguish the needs from wants.
* Students are urged to make full use of school bags, shoes and uniforms from past year if it is in good condition. Another wise option would be to check for shoes and school bags at the second-hand shops for better deals and bargain.
* Students must refrain from pressuring their parents to purchase school items such as bags and shoes because of its artistic and visual appearance. And parents must be equally smart by not entertaining unnecessary requests because of the fashion hype. It is simply not worth your hard-earned money. For example, the council through its recent market surveillance has found traders putting up enticing advertisements to lure consumers to purchase sub-standard products. One such example is the fancy-looking coloured plastic juice bottles with cartoon images sold for $10.99 at a popular outlet. Not only is the price unreasonable but the product is faulty with a broken outlet at the tip of the bottle.
* Do not purchase items because of aesthetic reasons but for the functionality and durability of the product. Consumers should not be fooled by the premium pricing, nor should they be easily swayed by the extravagant decorations and novel accessories.
* The council is warning schools to refrain from encouraging and promoting 'exclusive dealing' practices at their school. This has become a common practice during the start of new school year where students and parents are forced to buy uniforms, shoes, stationery and other schooling needs from certain businesses only which is identified by schools. This engagement is called 'exclusive dealings' and is illegal. Exclusive dealing is prohibited under Section 69 of the Commerce Commission Decree 2010.
* Should school principals or managements reprimand parents, guardians or their children for defying their directive to purchase school requirements from the school selected trader and supplier, parents and guardians should lodge their complaint with the Consumer Council of Fiji, Fiji Commerce Commission or the Ministry of Education without hesitation.
* Consumers must check their receipts for cash price displayed and paid prices. Besides checking the receipt, you must keep the receipt as well for any redress you might need in the future.
* Shoppers need to be aware of retailers who are not regular supplies of school items as they may not have full and back-up stock. This is important for consumers in case they seek replacements. Some retailers who do not normally sell school items are doing so to take advantage of the back-to-school shopping hype.
* Parents should view their back-to-school shopping as an "investment" rather than a one-off affair. When purchasing items they should buy quality items that would last long and provide value for money.
* Parents must be aware that schools cannot demand them to pay more than one term's school fees at the beginning of the year. Parents therefore must not allow schools to bully them with its demands.
The council would like to advice the parents that schools are in no position to make demands and pressure them to pay school fees for other school terms so long as they pay first term's fees. This is not acceptable as one cannot pay for something that will be delivered later in the year or at the end of the year.
* Parents of all primary schools students are also reminded that they are only required to buy exercise books as all text books are provided by the government to the schools.
* Walk-a-thon or any other related event is seen as a fundraising event which is optional. Therefore, schools are not to demand payment for fundraising and make it sound compulsory by sending children home.
This is a regular column from the Consumer Council of Fiji. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for feedback or queries.