Feel wronged by on­line mer­chants? Stand up to them

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS - By BAI PING Con­tact the writer at dr.baip­ing@hot­mail.com

Re­cently I bought an aca­demic book about cross-cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion from a pop­u­lar e-com­merce site in­China, and was bewil­dered in­stead to re­ceive a col­or­ful pam­phlet on in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion sev­eral days later.

I logged on to the chat room of the book­store on the e-mall and learned from its “Cus­tomer Ser­vice” rep­re­sen­ta­tives that the book I wanted had sold out and I could read the thin pic­ture book as a gift.

So would you send the courier again to take back the wrong de­liv­ery that I had no in­ter­est in and re­turn the money? I asked. No, “Cus­tomer Ser­vice” wrote back. If I didn’t want it, I should mail it back from Bei­jing to their brick-and­mor­tar busi­ness in Shang­hai be­fore they is­sued the re­fund.

WhenI in­sisted on­mat­ters be­ing re­solved the oth­er­way around, he or she got im­pa­tient. “Why don’t you just do us a fa­vor by ship­ping it back to us first,” they wrote. “You’re too se­ri­ous.”

Quickly I re­al­ized this mer­chant had no in­ten­tion what­so­ever to please an up­set cus­tomer. WhenI said I might re­port the case to their e-mall host, “Cus­tomer Ser­vice” deleted any in­crim­i­nat­ing chats be­tweenus and chal­lenged­meto go ahead through a show of in­dif­fer­ence.

For a mo­ment I thought of giv­ing up, blam­ing bad luck, like­many other on­line shop­pers when they en­counter dis­putes in­volv­ing petty sums of money. Acom­mon form of lever­age against rogue mer­chants has been writ­ing neg­a­tive re­views that could turn fu­ture cus­tomers away. But there are hor­ror sto­ries of mer­chants ha­rass­ing whis­tle blow­ers un­til they re­tract their com­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of In­dus­try and Com­merce, a na­tional watch­dog of con­sumer rights, com­plaints aris­ing from on­line shop­ping soared to 145,800 last year, or a 90 per­cent jump yearon-year. The lead­ing causes of such dis­putes in­cluded shoddy prod­ucts, fake sales and mer­chants’ re­luc­tance to make a re­fund.

Yet th­ese cases could be just the tip of the ice­berg in a coun­try boast­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of on­line shop­pers. Chi­nese me­dia re­ported that half of con­sumers had bought fake prod­ucts on­line, and about 23 per­cent said they had been re­fused re­funds be­cause they had opened the pack­ages.

Fac­ing ris­ing de­mand for the pro­tec­tion of on­line con­sumers, Bei­jing Bu­reau of In­dus­try and Com­merce re­cently signed an agree­ment with top 10 lo­cal e-malls that re­quires the plat­forms to re­fund or com­pen­sate on­line shop­pers in ad­vance if the mer­chants are found to be at fault.

Hangzhou, home to e-com­merce be­he­moths such as Alibaba, has set up court­rooms so peo­ple can set­tle on­line shop­ping dis­putes from their liv­ing rooms. The judge, plain­tiff, de­fen­dant and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the e-com­merce plat­form in­volved par­tic­i­pate in an on­line chat room, with most such lit­i­ga­tion end­ing within 30 min­utes.

Tomy sur­prise, jus­tice was swift when I took the mat­ter tomy e-mall which di­rected me to its newly cre­ated me­di­a­tion cen­ter that han­dles dis­putes be­tween shop­pers and mer­chants.

A few­days af­ter I sub­mit­ted the case with ev­i­dence on­line, me­di­a­tors called to in­form me that they had found the shop was sell­ing some­thing out of stock and the mall would re­turn the money tome shortly. Mail­ing the brochure back was not nec­es­sary.

When I re­vis­ited the me­di­a­tion page to close the case, I sawthe mer­chant was fum­ing aboutmy re­fusal to be a good sport. They wrote there would have been no costs for me if I had obliged their re­quest. NowI have caused “heavy losses” to them. Me­di­a­tors told me a mer­chant’s bad ser­vices could be cause for de­merit points lead­ing to ex­pul­sion from the mall at the yearend ap­praisal.

“Why are you do­ing this?” they wrote. I was at a loss for words. It sad­dened me to think they still didn’t get it, pam­pered by the tol­er­ance of many other shop­pers.


A wo­man (right) at a vil­lage in Chaohu, An­hui prov­ince, shows a pullover she bought on­line which turned out to be wrong size.

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