Authorities in the UAE capital are investigating small groceries after consumers complained of being overcharged at these establishments.
Officials at the Economic Development Department told Gulf News they were following up on complaints made by customers of foodstuff being overpriced, and will take action soon.
"Many residents compare prices between small groceries and big supermarkets and wonder why they have to pay more in the groceries. We have no straight answer and will intervene after conducting thorough investigations on a case by case basis," said Mahmoud Khalifa Al Beloushi, head of the Consumer Protection Section at Abu Dhabi's Department of Economic Development (DED).
He added that his section will investigate all such complaints and take necessary action. "If the inspectors detect over-pricing we refer the matter to the Consumer Protection Department at the Ministry of Economy which is authorised to take penal action, such as imposing a fine," Al Beloushi said.
Despite complaints about overcharging, most residents depend on the small groceries which provide the convenience of shopping in the neighbourhood and have additional facilities, such as home delivery and sale-on-credit.
Some residents had mixed reactions to the over-pricing in groceries when Gulf News asked for their comments.
Moidoty V. Mandoth, 53, an Indian radiologist who has been living in Abu Dhabi for 14 years, said the neighbourhood groceries overcharge for items they deliver home.
"That's somewhat justified because they deliver even small items at your doorstep. But they shouldn't overcharge when we go and purchase from shops," he said. "They overcharge by at least ten to 15 per cent."
Mandoth, who lives on Muroor street, said around 35 per cent of his total monthly purchases are from neighbourhood groceries.
Many grocers said the complaints were unfair. "Comparing prices at supermarkets and groceries is irrational because they [supermarkets] get huge discounts and various offers on bulk purchases from suppliers," said V.T. Abu Bakr of Ajman Grocery on Abu Dhabi's Al Falah Street.
Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) recently said that a government study revealed that residents in Abu Dhabi city spent about Dh 1 billion (One billion) in groceries out of Dh3.4 billion they spent on food, beverages and other consumer goods in 2010. The city currently has 1,300 grocery stores in residential and commercial areas.
These groceries tend to stay open for 16 hours daily, and serve an average of 150 customers every day.
The Department of Economic Development (DED) said the inspectors at his section visit all sorts of shops including those selling luxury goods if they receive any complaints against them.
The inspectors visit shops selling food items daily to monitor the prices as part of the mechanism to check overpricing of food items, Al Baloushi said.
The DED receives the list of price limit of essential food items every week and the inspectors compare the prices in the shops against the list, he said.
"At the moment price level are satisfactory and there is no unwanted practice in the market," Al Baloushi said.
The Consumer Protection Section at the Department of Economy has been raising awareness about the rights of consumers and urging them to file complaints in case of violations.
In case of retailers refusing to repair or replace a faulty product, consumers can call the section or e-mail it with the proof of purchase, such as bills, warranty cards, agreements or contracts.
Consumers are advised to retain all bills and documents of purchase. If the complaint is genuine, the department will call up the seller and ask for their version.
As previously reported in Gulf News, in most genuine cases a telephone call works and the retailer agrees to accept the request from the consumer, according to an inspector who wished to remain anonymous.
"In some cases, the sellers are summoned to the department to present their version before senior officials," the inspector said. If their arguments are not supported by the consumer protection law, the department takes legal action, which includes a fine, he added.
The inspector said the department also has a copy of the menus of all restaurants to verify complaints about overcharging. "If the consumer approaches us with the bill, we cross-check it with the menu of the restaurant," he said. The department last year asked restaurants to stop taking a service charge from customers following a decision by the Ministry of Economy.
Where to complain
The Consumer Protection Section, Department of Economic Development, Abu Dhabi, deals with the grievances of consumers.
Toll Free Number: 8008811
E-mail: [email protected]