With thousands of students in Qatar all set to start their new academic year tomorrow, shops have been vying with each other to woo customers with attractive "back to school" promotions. Are these promotions genuine or just a cover-up for the arbitrary price hike these shops have been imposing on books and school stationery items almost every year?
Many parents The Peninsula spoke to complained that they had been forced to shell out more money this year compared to the last to buy the very basic items for their children.
The Peninsula has found that the prices have gone up by 25 to 30 percent for most school items. Some shopkeepers denied any price hike while those who admitted to the fact failed to give any satisfactory explanation.
A Qatari woman The Peninsula met with her two school-going children at a leading store in Doha said, wishing not to be named: “Prices of all the items here are very high as compared to last year’s prices. I have no idea by what percentage they have gone up, but I can say with conviction that it is much higher than last year, because I had to spend more than QR500 to buy all the items.”
Surprisingly, an American woman said school items were available in her country at prices much lower than those she found in Doha.
Some traders were quick to attribute the hike to the “rising prices in the international market” and even to a hike in oil prices. A wholesaler told this newspaper that a rise in the prices of raw materials, especially plastic, in some manufacturing countries had contributed to the price hike in Qatar.
Such arguments have some truth, but is there any mechanism to monitor the prices in the source countries and those charged by dealers here to protect the interests of the customer?
Many feel that glaring disparities in the prices of school stationery in different shops in Doha and the proliferation of low-quality products in the market underline the need for a more effective mechanism to monitor the market.
The high prices are forcing many Qataris to do their back-to-school shopping in neighbouring countries, especially the border towns in Saudi Arabia. Many expatriate families would love to do the same had it been easy for them to procure a Saudi visa.
Apart from the soaring prices, the quality of the products is also an issue of concern after the market was infiltrated by substandard goods in all segments.
The Ministry of Environment has set standards and specifications for toys, plastic bags, melamine products and several other consumer goods. But what about the water bottles and meal boxes that come as part of the back-to-school offers? And the poor quality colours and paints for children that are being sold even in neighbourhood stores? Do they not pose any health hazards for children and necessitate stricter quality control measures?
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