Consumer Rights in Bulgaria. Or the Lack Thereof

Editorial |Author: Viktoria Nasteva | July 23, 2010, Friday // 15:29|  views

Foreign retail chains and malls may be popping up on every street corner in Sofia in an attempt to take advantage of Bulgaria’s transitional economic state in which living standards are improving, but Bulgaria might also be of interest because here, every sale is a final sale!

In the United States and Western Europe, if you purchase an article of clothing or accessory and suddenly become unsatisfied or the product is defective, you can return it in exchange for your money.

Sure, there are rules - you may need the original receipt or to be within a certain time period - but to every rule there is an exception. More often than not, getting your money back is simple. Not in Bulgaria.

Throughout Bulgaria, “there is just no way this can happen,” according to a sales associate at Nine West in Sofia’s new “The Mall” shopping center.

After spending some time questioning the associate about the quality and durability of a handbag and shoes, I made the purchase.

I put my computer, for which she told me the tote would be perfect, and a few personal items in my brand new bag and slung it over my shoulder. Moments later, I noticed it had ripped.

I marched into the store, put my unwanted items on the counter, and the associate immediately noticed the tears in the bag.

That’s not a big deal, I have supplies in the back, and I’ll fix it for you, she said. Or, do you want to choose something different?, she asked.

Why would I want her to “fix it”?! So it can rip again? What if nothing else in the store appeals to me? And, why does this American company have different return policies internationally?

When I demanded my money be returned, she seemed confused. We just don’t have the same practices as in the west, she said.

No, Bulgarians are not western per se, but this does not mean they should be left with a piece of garbage they don’t want!

Bulgaria does have a Commission for Consumer Protection which has made efforts to bring complaints to the attention of the judicial system, but why must one complain to a formal organization to get what Bulgarian law states is hers?

In essence, Bulgaria is a place where consumers are supposed to have rights, but don’t.

You might think this is an issue that only concerns temporary residents of Bulgaria such as exchange students, visitors, au pairs, etc. who are unfamiliar with the norms here. But, this annoying practice of exchanging, not returning, could actually cause the average Bulgarian shopper to be wiser about her purchases and thus more frugal with her money.

It could be the deciding factor for a customer between making an impulse buy, with which she may remain satisfied in a few days and keep, or not buying anything at all.

Furthermore, if someone wishes to return a gift, which is commonplace, and is denied, retailers risk losing multiple customers.

This not only hurts the company’s bottom line, which is clearly all it cares about, but also the Bulgarian economy as a whole.

Bulgaria’s image is also at stake. Many people already associate Eastern Europe with stealing, lying and cheating. An experience such as this can leave one feeling duped and only strengthen negative sentiment about Bulgaria.

Bulgaria should respect the populace and realize the leverage it has over national progress. Adopting the standard “Customer Comes First” strategy is a simple way for Bulgaria to drive up consumer spending, and it would be a stepping stone for further reform in Bulgaria.

*Viktoria Nasteva is an intern and contributing writer at (Sofia News Agency)

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Tags: consumer rights


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