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“I Ask For Change, Y U Give Me Toffees?” : A Consumer’s Woes

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By Shivangi Singh:

The process of purchasing a cell phone has been made easier by the advent of internet. Check the features, compare the price, place the order and Voila — it’s delivered straight to your home. Most of these e-commerce organizations have one condition though; you should have the exact amount at the time of delivery. If the amount comes out to be Rs.14, 999/-, then handing over Rs.15, 000/- just won’t do. You see, the courier person doesn’t carry change, or so says the company policy. Now, suppose the exact change wasn’t available even after trying hard, i.e., asking, begging for change from each and every family member, friend, local relative and the neighborhood uncles, aunties and kids and getting a big NO with a smile as the answer, and the courier person is generous enough to overlook the “policy” and make an exception, then your 15, 000 rupees are accepted, and in return for all your efforts and for the one Rupee change that is owed to you, you get a… hold your breath, Toffee!

The toffee or the coin? The choice is yours.

If you were 5, you would have been delighted; a good person carrying gift also gave candy, and all this, in exchange of just some pieces of paper. But what 5 year old orders a cell phone online? And hence, there you are — staring at the toffee, and then staring at the courier person and thinking, How nice would it be if I had paid in toffees too, why bother for cash?” Sadly, this trend of treating customers like a child lost in a candy store is catching up.

When we buy a toffee, it’s mostly because we are looking for a casual change of taste, and as it comes under/at Re. 1, it’s easier on the pocket than a regular bar of chocolate — but when a shopkeeper buys toffees, it’s a bulk order costing a maximum of 45 Paisa per piece. With the kind of profits the retailers make on handing out two toffees instead of two bucks, it’s easy to understand why they are so keen on making this the only method of pay back. From college canteens to shopping malls to general stores, shopkeepers across the nation have started giving toffees as change while earning huge profits on the same.

The practice is not limited to change for one or two bucks and extends well over to Rs.5/- these days. Handing out a mini bar of chocolate seems an easier option and this is particularly notable at the small outlets of big brands in colleges. In fact, some of these canteens buy cartons of chocolates with M.R.P. Rs.5/- just for the sake of giving them out instead of change cash and undoubtedly and unfortunately, for warming their pockets well. Students are left with the only option of bringing the required amount of change cash themselves, and even in spite of that, the next student at the canteen gets a candy in place of cash. If the student complains, they innocently tell him/her how no one gives them change and they ultimately run out of “toote paise” or “chillar” very soon. The unsuspecting student accepts this answer, and moves on while the shopkeeper goes on to cheat the next student-in-line.

One expects certain cleanliness in dealings at branded wholesalers and distributors. The staff is polite and helpful, the infrastructure is good, even the crowd is marginally better and still, when the cashier hands out the imported candies in place of Indian currency, the educated and working 30+ customer in an air-conditioned retail shop doesn’t question it ever. It might just be due to pure ignorance on the customer’s part, for when one enters a contemporary mega-mart offering best deals and prices, little does one suspect that they can turn out to be such petty thieves. The busy working class doesn’t seem to have enough time to notice the attack on their pockets or to break into arguments over one to five rupees, as they continue with their life, worrying about their kids and the boss who doesn’t grant them leave. However, the question that every “toffee victim” wants to ask the victimizers is that, if they give the victims toffees instead of cash and expects them to be perfectly fine with it then shouldn’t the customers/victims be paying them in toffees instead? Also, if toffees are such an acceptable form of trade then every citizen should order large cartons of candies at factory prices instead of pay checks! A world with the logo: “Forget cash or barter system, here is the toffee system” is sure to be every kid’s Disney Land.

Ignorance, age or whatever the reason might be, ignoring a crime irrespective of how petty it might be is a crime in itself. The reason that this form of criminal act hasn’t yet been brought to book is that we choose to not only ignore, but also accept this practice even after being completely aware of the crime, the criminal and the effects that the practice is sure to have on the economy, business and the consumers in the long run, and in doing so, we are embracing a culture where white-collared criminals wearing fake smiles and innocent looks fish out money from our pockets right under our noses. And when that happens, the entire country will suffer as the misfortune will be self-inflicted, as every citizen who ignores toffees today is paving the way illegitimate profits for the shopkeepers and consequently, a very heavy blow on every consumers’ hard-earned money.

It’s cheating on the part of the seller, undoubtedly, and the fact that the customers fail to recognize it speaks volumes about the failure of the much promoted Government agenda of Consumer Awareness. Sayani Rani (the mascot) yells “Jaago Grahak Jaago” and the consumers, ironically, continue their peaceful slumber. Even if this issue is taken to the consumer courts the evidence won’t be substantial enough to prove anything. The safest bet to stick to would therefore, be the age old ‘ask the shopkeepers’ tactic. This may be misunderstood. One shouldn’t just go and ask the seller to give them change in place of the toffee, because the seller would obviously say that they have no change left. The idea is to make them realize that we know of their hidden profits. The consumers must speak up. Their unified voice is sure to make the shopkeepers take note of the wrong doing and most importantly, it gives them a clear message that the consumers are now aware and on their toes. When they realize that the customer is aware that he/she’s being cheated only then can we expect them to change.

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