Year 7 What is a Consumer?
|Teaching Objectives||Possible Teaching Activity||Learning Outcomes|
Pupils should gain a basic understanding of:
Explain to the students that being a good consumer means you have both rights and responsibilities. Consider some of the most important rights and ask your students to explain why they think each is important:
Introduce the word 'law' into the discussion. Is there a difference between the rules that have been discussed and the law? Look at the history of Consumer Protection Law and discuss with the students the role of Trading Standards Departments.
When thinking about what we buy it is important to make students realise that we all buy not just goods, but also services, every day.
We need food, warmth and shelter. We may buy a can of drink, or buy a magazine. We may travel on a bus or train, perhaps visit the doctor or dentist, go to the library, have a haircut, go to the cinema or watch television.
When talking about buying in this context, we are looking at those things that we decided to own/use directly. We all have different thoughts about what we would like to own/use - a big house in the country, a season ticket for a football club, a round-the-world trip.
Suggested Teaching Activity
Ask the students to think of something that one of their friends owns that they wish was theirs. Engage the class in a discussion about their choices and explore the different ways in which that item could become theirs.
Introduce the idea of 'swapping' as one of the ways in which the item could also become theirs. Look at what is needed to make a swap possible - would the students actually swap their own favourite possession?
Introduce the meaning of 'value '. When buying an item, the value is the price you pay. However, when swapping, the value is how much we want the item and what we are prepared to give up in order to obtain it.
Using Picture Stimulus
You can use a selection of pictures from mail order catalogues, magazines, etc of 'desirable' objects, eg - trainers or a mobile phone, in order to help the students explore what 'value' they attach to goods.
Each student is given a picture and asked to barter with other students to acquire an item they really want. This may mean keeping hold of the item they were originally given.
This approach explores their personal needs and wants and helps them to develop their negotiation skills.
Students may already be familiar with the words 'Buyer' and 'Seller', but it is important for them to go on to understand what we mean by the term 'Consumer'.
The definition of a Consumer in the Oxford Concise Dictionary not only includes 'the purchasing of goods and services', which we have already discussed, but it also talks about 'the user of an article' .
At home we use energy in the form of gas, electricity, coal or oil. We expect clean, drinkable water from the tap. If we put out the dustbin we expect the local council's refuse collection service to pick it up and empty it. We demand a minimum standard of education and health care and we rely on the police to help safeguard our property.
And since we can't supply all of these things for ourselves we pay other people to provide them for us. Many of the services we use such as:
are provided for out of taxes and rates (local taxes) so we are paying for these indirectly. We may even find ourselves paying for services that we don't individually use but we make our contribution because we recognise that it is right for the community as a whole to have these things.
It is very important for students to understand that you do not need to make a purchase to be a Consumer. We are all Consumers because we are all users.
Suggested Teaching Activity
Explain that they could 'buy' an item from their friend. This means that they give money to their friend in exchange for the goods. Introduce the idea of 'price'. Look at the setting of the price, ie, both parties need to be happy with the price for the sale to work. If both parties cannot agree, the sale will not happen.
Ask the students about buying from a shop instead of a friend. Ask them to discuss how they actually buy things - look at the price, decide they wish to 'purchase', take the goods to the counter, pay the price and take the goods home.
Being a good consumer means knowing what to look out for and what to avoid. It means knowing where and how to get the best value for money. And where to go if things go wrong. It means that in your role as a consumer you have both rights and responsibilities. Some of the most important are:
* The right to choose
Consumer choice is something you might take for granted because you expect to be able to walk into a shop and take your pick from a selection of brands. Suppliers compete with one another to attract your attention and tempt you to buy their products and shop in their stores as opposed to those of their rivals.
You might use a shop because it's near your home or because the prices are reasonable or because it always has what you want. You may be mad about crisps but always choose one brand because you think they taste best and have more flavour, but you may choose a certain type of crisps because they have less fat than the others. Or you may use a particular shampoo because you believe it makes your hair look shiny and feel soft.
But supposing that you weren't given the option because there was only one company making beefburgers and one making shampoo. What if there was only one place that sold them? You'd have to take whatever they offered and pay whatever they asked or go without. You'd have no real choice.
Competition between suppliers means that customers get a better deal because it keeps traders on their toes. They have to change and respond to consumer demand or risk going out of business by losing their customers to their competitors.
Consumer choice can be an effective means of influencing production because by refusing to accept shoddy or over-priced goods and services you can force suppliers to change their ideas. You as a consumer can actually encourage competition and help improve quality - provided that you're prepared to use your right to choose.
* The right to accurate information
Suppliers of goods and services should give out clear and accurate information so that you, the consumer, are able to make meaningful comparisons and can choose what is best suited to your individual needs.
Not only can this information help you make comparisons but it is also important that you can rely on the information on labels, for example if you have a nut allergy.
Another time this could be important is if you have sensitive skin and need to avoid certain fibres. There was a famous Court case many years ago (Grant -v- The Australian Knitting Mills), where a gentleman bought some long woolly underpants and then came out in a painful red rash because he was allergic to the material. This example also illustrates how reading labels carefully can save you a great deal of embarrassment later on. We have to know that we can rely on any information being accurate.
Sometimes suppliers may be given the option and allowed to choose what information or detail they provide. Here it's up to you to find out what you think you need to know and to use that information to help you make your choice.
* The right to safety
You have the right to be sure that products are not going to put your life or health in danger. Manufacturers will normally have to carry out rigorous safety tests and checks before they are allowed to put their goods into the shops.
Other goods must be labelled with warnings or clear instructions for use. If you have a look at a bottle of bleach, or the label on an electric blanket, or the instructions for a new hairdryer, or a box of fireworks, you will see that they all have instructions to make sure that you use them safely.
Consumers, however, still have a responsibility to read and follow the instructions carefully. You can't blame the manufacturer or supplier if you choose to ignore the warnings.
* The right to value for money
No one enjoys feeling that they've been cheated or conned into paying a high price for poor quality. But it can happen, unless you look carefully at what you're buying.
Remember that 'value' doesn't always mean 'cheapest'. Instead it means that the standard or quality ought to be reflected in the price. Whether you think that something is worth its asking price is for you to decide.
If, for example, you buy a pair of expensive jeans and pay far more than the average price for them, you might expect them to last, to keep their shape and to wear well. Whereas if you buy a much cheaper pair you may not worry if they go baggy in places and wear thin at the knees after a much shorter time.
You often have to strike a reasonable balance between cost and quality. It can be unreasonable to expect the highest standard at the lowest price. You've probably heard the expression 'You only get what you pay for' - just think for a minute what it means.
Of course you may be lucky and pick up a genuine bargain in the sales. But you should still make sure that the reduced price isn't simply to make up for a reduction in quality, and that you're buying something you really want. It's no saving at all if you're left with something you can't use.
* The right to redress
This has nothing to do with putting on your clothes again. It's just another way of saying that as a consumer you have the right to complain and to have your complaint settled fairly.
Unfortunately, no matter how careful you may have been there's still a chance that something may go wrong. If it does then you may be entitled to ask for some, or maybe all, of your money back.
Most shops or suppliers would be willing to help because they believe that a satisfied customer is one who will come back again and spend more money,
Suggested Teaching Activity
Playsafe Project (Safety)
Playsafe has been designed by the Trading Standards Institute in conjunction with the British Toy and Hobby Association to encourage a greater awareness of safety features in the design of toys.
Playsafe provides a vehicle not only for worthwhile study information but also the opportunity for innovative individual or team project work in a classroom situation and is suitable for students aged 9-11, 12-14 and 15-17. Further information about this competition and toy safety factsheets are available from the British Toy and Hobby Association website. (www.btha.co.uk/value_of_play/playsafe.php).
Case Study - Value for Money
The Lowry High School in Salford, undertook a project about Pocket Money, to help develop their students financial capability and ICT skills. Details about this project can be found on the Personal Finance Education Group website (www.pfeg.org/Resources/Detail/default.asp?CssSizeID=1&ResourceID=61).
The goods and services that we buy have become increasingly complex. Modern technology and mass-marketing techniques combined with high pressure salesmanship and sharp advertising can certainly confuse the poor consumer.
It isn't always possible or practical to examine or test things before buying. This is a pre-packed, ready-processed age where the gap between producer and purchaser has widened enormously.
Because of this we need an effective system of consumer protection to deal with any problems and, hopefully, to help prevent them from arising again in the future.
In order for people to live together, it is essential that rules exist to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and in the same way.
You can see by looking at school and home that rules are necessary.
Home Rules - In order that family life runs smoothly, it is important that there are a set of rules established. This will ensure that everyone in the family knows what they can and cannot do and what is expected of them.
School Rules - When in school, the Head Teacher and other teachers are 'in loco parentis' which means that they take the place of parents. They must take care of you as parents would and are allowed to make rules and give fair and reasonable punishment. Again, rules are essential in order for a school to run smoothly.
As all of the students (and teachers) have different sets of rules at home, there is a set of rules that apply to you when you are in school, which may differ from what you are allowed to do at home.
Consumer Rules - As we have seen, we are all consumers. When we buy goods and services, there is usually a chain of people involved and this can increase the chances of something going wrong.
It is, therefore, important to have rules both when buying and when selling goods to ensure that everyone in the chain expects the same thing to happen.
Earlier we discussed some of the rights that Consumers have and what they expect to receive.
In order for these rights to happen, it is necessary that traders follow certain rules.
Suggested Teaching Activity
Ask the students (in pairs) to write down examples of the rules that exist in their lives at home, in school and when they are consumers.
Draw a table for the class to see and have 3 columns headed - Home, School, Consumer and ask the students for examples from their list of rules. Write an example of a rule under each heading.
Then ask the students the following questions for each column and write their answers up in the table;
|Example of rules that exist||Must be home by 9.30 pm||Must not drop litter||Goods must not be broken when sold|
|Who makes the rules?||Parents/Carers,|
The whole family
|Who makes sure the rules are followed?||Parents/Carers,|
The whole family, Friends, Neighbours
|What happens if the rules are broken?||Punishment |
This Country has a set of rules, which states how the Country should be governed, sets standards for personal behaviour and procedures for handling personal disputes. These rules are called the law.
The term 'law' is used in many senses. However, in this case we are looking at the law of a state and we could therefore say that is: 'a rule of human conduct, imposed upon and enforced among the members of a given state'
Whether you have to wear a uniform is up to the school; it may be one of their rules but it isn't the law. Whereas it is the law that you must to stay in full-time education until you are sixteen. This ensures that all children have a fair and equal chance of receiving an education.
Consumer Protection law is there to ensure you get a fair deal and it tries to strike a reasonable balance between you and the supplier.
Despite its modern-sounding name, consumer protection has been around for centuries. Hundreds of years ago merchants realised that both they and their customers benefited from having a standard system of weights and measures. It protected the honest from the dishonest.
The trouble was that the systems varied according to where you lived and which one you happened to use. For instance in the 8th century if you asked for something measuring a Welsh foot you got 9.9 inches for your money, whereas a Saxon foot gave you a far more generous 13.2 inches.
It was King John who really got to grips with the situation back in the 13th century when he signed Magna Carta. We were given our first official standard measures...
"There shall be but one measure of wine throughout the realm, and one measure of ale, and one measure of corn... And it shall be of weights as of measures".
Local Inspectors were appointed by the Lords of the Manor to make sure that traders didn't cheat on their customers - or each other. In the old days if they found a merchant selling short-measure or shoddy goods, he would be tried bv the Manorial Court. If found guilty he'd either be clapped into the stocks or dragged around the town on a hurdle with his wares tied around his neck. They didn't mess about in the Middle Ages.
Modern Consumer Protection
We looked earlier at some the important rights that a Consumer has and many of these are backed up by the Law.
The right to accurate information - Sometimes the law demands the type of information that must be provided. Eg, -food may need a list of ingredients including any additives like artificial colourings or preservatives.
The right to safety - The law on safety is very strict and demands that suppliers meet certain basic minimum standards.
The right to redress - The law lays down the rules for fair and honest trading and it spells out the rights and obligations of suppliers and customers.
Trading Standards Officers now have the job of making sure that traders do not break the law. There are penalties for breaking Consumer Protection Laws and convicted offenders can be fined a sum of money or even end up in prison depending on how serious the Court feels their crime to be.
Trading Standards not only regularly visit and check on shops but they also react to complaints from the public.
If you are unlucky enough to be injured because the product was dangerous or you feel that you have been deliberately given false or misleading information, then you should report the matter to your local Trading Standards Department.
Suggested Teaching Activity
Over the last few years, several areas of this topic have been the centre of debate - examples include the high cost of replica football shirts and CDs. There are articles in the press constantly claiming that the British consumer is being ripped off. Look out for articles and use them as topical examples for the students to discuss. Alternatively, there are several websites that look at current issues that UK consumers are facing:
BBC1 Watchdog website (www.bbc.co.uk/consumer/tv_and_radio/watchdog/).
This website contains reports and information on a range of current consumer issues.
The Which? website (www.which.net/)
This website provides details about Which? magazine on-line, providing information and advice on current issues and campaigns.
What do people mean when they talk about being ripped off by traders? Do you feel that you have been ripped off by anyone? How could you have prevented it?
This topic is designed to explore students' perceptions about protection for consumers and to see whether they understand the idea of their rights and responsibilities as consumers.