The CPA can have big implications for small businesses. We asked legal expert Roger Hitchcock, from Sink or Swim, for 8 essential things every business owner should know.
1. Manage the quality of everything you sell
"The companies most affected by the act will be those that sell inferior quality or faulty products (or products that can be misused). You need to regularly check what you are selling even if it's supplied by someone else and listen very carefully to any consumer complaints."
2. Refund, replace or repair faulty goods
"All goods sold now automatically have a 6 month warranty. If they are defective the consumer has the right to a refund, a replacement or a repair of the product. Just offering an exchange for another product is no longer enough."
3. Put the customer at the centre of your business
"My challenge to any business is to really make sure you understand the central role your customer pays and aim for a culture of fairness in dealing with them. Businesses that are already good at this shouldn't have much to worry about. Carefully looking at how consumers are dealt with could be a very positive thing, not only from a legal point of view but also in terms of being a successful business."
4. Understand the full supply chain
"Any business that is part of the supply chain that puts products and services in the hands of a consumer is affected. It's important to be aware, even if your company doesn't interact with the end consumer directly, that you are still bound by the CPA."
5. Talk in plain language and communicate clearly
"The act requires companies to communicate in plain language with their customers. If the information you provide is incomplete, incorrect or even just difficult to understand you could be breaking the CPA. You need to look at every type of communication: from advertising; to websites; to what customer service people say, to make sure there is no room for misunderstanding. In particular this is relevant for products or services that could put someone in danger in some way."
6. Contact your customers in reasonable hours
"You should not be contacting customers (without their advance permission) on public holidays, Sundays and between 8pm and 8am on weekday evenings."
7. Don't make unsolicited sales calls
"Direct marketing without permission is no longer possible this includes calls, mails and electronic communications such as SMS or email. If you want to send regular emails or newsletters for example you will need to obtain permission."
8. Make sure staff are aware of how the act affects them
"Knowledge of the CPA can't just be held by one person. Anyone who is interacting with the public should be aware of the parts of the act that apply to their role, for example a sales assistant needs to understand how to deal with returns and a marketer must understand rules around competitions and direct marketing."
The CPA covers many areas of business and these are just a few of the key points to look at. It's worth investigating further. You can download the full regulations of the Consumer Protection Act here: http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/38637_rg10407_gon271.pdf