When your Israeli-bought electronic device is a lemon

The era of customer humiliation is coming to an end.

Electronics products 311 (photo credit: Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Electronics products 311
(photo credit: Los Angeles Times/MCT)
It’s bad enough when you buy a computer or other electronic device overseas and try to get the Israeli representative to honor the international warranty. But it’s almost as tough getting them to honor the warranty on products you bought right here.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: You buy a product from a local electronics store, and decide you don’t want it – or find something wrong with it. You bring it back to the store, where you are subjected to an interrogation by a clerk, who demands to know why you are bringing the product back, what is wrong with it and why you are being “so difficult.”
Ditto for an item that needs repair; how do we know you didn’t drop/break/abuse it somehow? Or maybe you just needed it for a day and decided to “borrow” it from the store? Finally, after much back and forth, the clerk finally agrees to take back the item, but instead of giving you your money back, you get a little note, a zikui – a little chit that entitles you to buy something else at the same store for the same amount of money. And if there’s nothing else you’re interested in buying in the same store? Tough luck! If you’ve been here for awhile, you may have forgotten how these things work “back there,” where they usually hand you your money back, no questions asked. But newcomers are probably shocked the first time they go through the experience of being treated like a suspect in some white-collar crime.
Fortunately, though, the era of customer humiliation is coming to an end; as of mid- October, new consumer protection laws require businesses to give you your money back, no questions asked.
The new rules are an extension of the original Consumer Protection Law passed by the Knesset in 2005, which regulates the business of repairs. Regardless of what the seller or manufacturer may lead you to believe, all electronic products, computers, printers, gadgets, devices and appliances that cost more than NIS 150 come with an automatic one-year warranty. Manufacturers and importers are required to repair any and all problems that crop up with an item during that period (excluding, of course, problems that were caused by customer abuse) – within three days of the item being submitted for repair. If the item is too big to be reasonably brought in for service by the customer, the seller or importer must send out a repair team to fix the item at the customer’s home or business – also within three days.
The expanded regulations that came into effect a few weeks ago require retailers to provide cash refunds to consumers who pay in cash on purchases of NIS 50 or more within 14 days of purchase. The rules cover electronic items and appliances, any unopened packages, cellphones and other communication devices, Internet and cable services, as well as vacation packages, gym memberships, club memberships, and other items (clothing can be returned for a refund, but only within 24 hours of purchase; otherwise you’re stuck with an exchange chit).
IT SOUNDS GREAT on paper, but as we all know, cultural traits can’t just be legislated away – and mass mistreatment of the customer is definitely an ingrained customer trait in Israeli society. So, you may have to go further to get justice or to get a business to live up to its obligations.
But where? The courts – small claims court, in most cases – are pretty crowded already, and the wheels of justice can turn slowly.
And complaining to government organizations is usually just as bad, as bureaucrats often take things even more slowly. Instead, take your case to the court of the public mind.
There are several consumer complaint web sites here, but among the most effective – and popular is Public Trust, known as Emun in Hebrew (http://www.emun.org). Sort of like the Consumers Union in the US, Public Trust analyzes complaints against businesses, importers and institutions, and will take up a case for a consumer who is being treated unfairly. In addition, Emun hands out its Public Trust Seal of Approval to businesses and organizations that have proved themselves to “minimize consumer risk” and treat customers fairly, according to the organization’s code.
The site also has useful guides and tips on how to make sure your rights aren’t violated.
If you really want to get back at a “deserving” business, though, you should check out the Tluna website (http://www.tluna.co.il/), where they name names – of both the offenses and the offending businesses.
The site (in Hebrew) is broken down by industry (Internet service providers, cellphone companies, electronics and many more), as well as by company name (Bezeq, Orange, YES, HOT, etc.) Clicking on a company or industry name reveals a world of consumer hurt – broken promises, bad faith and nasty attitudes. Sign up for the site and submit your complaint – and Tluna will submit it to the relevant government office, organization or individual of your choice.
But the best part is getting your two cents in – just maybe convincing the company that you’re dealing with to work things out with you, instead of letting their name live on in consumer infamy on the Internet for other potential customers to see. The site includes letters from thankful consumers who got satisfaction after a sometimes lengthy ordeal, proving that you can successfully buy a computer or other electronic item here – if you’re willing to put some work into teaching the seller just how to treat a consumer properly.