When is a good deal really a lemon? Sometimes the biggest bargains come with the heaviest hidden costs, thanks to unclear warranties that cover little when things go wrong. Faulty goods and ambiguous warranties are one of the greatest bugbears for consumers and retailers. A new ISO standard in development aims to help.

Faulty goods and substandard services are a significant cost, both to the consumer and society as a whole. A UK study, for example, showed that problems with unsatisfactory goods and services set the country back more than 6 billion pounds per year, not to mention the time wasted and stress created.

In addition, problems with warranties and failure to rectify faulty goods are a significant generator of consumer complaints. In Malaysia, for example, the National Consumer Complaints Centre receives more than 40 000 complaints each year, many of which stem from unclear warranty terms. Issues include warranties not valid in different countries and disputes over responsibility, resulting in consumers being bounced from manufacturer to retailer, often leaving a bitter taste in their mouth.

A new standard being developed aims to remove confusion and frustration by providing guidelines for clear and effective consumer warranties, improving confidence for purchasers, retailers and manufacturers, and smoothing the way for better trade.

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