Hit them where it hurts: ACCC boss Rod Sims puts retail chains on notice

Rod Sims

ACCC chair Rod Sims doesn't think 10gb plans are "perfect for streaming". AAP/Peter Rae.

ACCC boss Rod Sims has put electronics and homewares retailers on notice over thousands of complaints about faulty products in the last 12 months.

In a speech delivered at a Committee for Economic Development Australia event yesterday, Sims revealed the consumer watchdog received almost 9000 complaints about electrical appliances and white goods in 2018, three-quarters of which related to breakdowns or quality problems.

“We’re concerned that many manufacturers and large retailers are not complying with consumer guarantee laws and this will be an area of renewed focus for us this year,” he said.

“Electrical and white goods products are the second most complained about industry after motor vehicles.”

In the wide-ranging speech, which covered ACCC priorities for 2019, Sims also said he wants to hit misbehaving companies where it hurts — by securing penalties big enough to trigger share price plunges.

NSW Fair Trading data released earlier this week revealed a spike in post-Christmas complaints about electronics and white goods retailers in the state.

Online player Kogan topped the list with 70 complaints, ahead of Apple (39), Samsung (34), Harvey Norman (29), The Good Guys (25) and JB Hi-Fi (17).

Smartphones and accessories have topped the complaint list over the last 24 months with 282 frustrated shoppers coming forward, followed by laptops, with 130 complaints.

Quality of goods is far and away the most common issue shoppers have complained about in NSW.

Continuing his focus on retail companies, Sims said the ACCC is looking closely at the use of personal data collected by retailers, following several scandals in 2018.

In September last year, supermarket giant Woolworths was forced to implement multiple changes to its rewards program after 130 customers fell prey to an online scam targeting their rewards points.

“While these customer loyalty schemes are ubiquitous across many sectors, questions arise about whether consumers are being properly informed and receiving the benefits touted by many of these programs,” Sims said.

It will be a big year for the ACCC, with laws increasing the penalties for breaches of consumer law to over $10 million significantly increasing risk for businesses.

The regulator is already off to a running start, securing two prosecutions against franchises for consumer law breaches this month.

Sims said advertising on social media and subscription services will also be spotlighted on 2019, falling under the ACCC’s ongoing digital platforms inquiry, which is trying to take on giants such as Facebook and Google.

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