Sales rules a welcome move to regain trust

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2009, 12:00am

The scandal nearly two years ago over the sale of fake jewellery to mainland tourists damaged this city's international reputation as a shopping paradise. But it is Hong Kong people who are exposed the most to dishonest sales practices employed by some retailers. New rules to prohibit them from next week under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance are overdue but welcome.

They target, among other things, pet consumer hates such as false representation about after-sales service and warranties, misleading indication of price or unit of quantity - a big source of complaints in the dried seafood trade, and exclusion of basic accessories for electronic products such as batteries and chargers.

In other changes, the definition and regulation of terms and expressions used in the precious metals and stones trade will resonate in Hong Kong. And retailers will be required to disclose specified information on invoices or receipts. For a range of electronic goods, this will include explicit detail about after-sales service. More serious breaches of the new rules will carry penalties of up to a HK$500,000 fine and five years in jail.

The midst of an economic downturn and worsening business conditions may not seem a good time to impose more regulations on retailers. But if the new rules to enhance consumer protection serve to boost their confidence and trust in opening their wallets, they will be good for everyone. In fact, the Customs and Excise Department is promoting the new laws with a publicity campaign entitled 'Sell with integrity. Buy with confidence'. Customs officers will pay random visits to shops to ensure compliance with the law.

The new rules owe more to the concerns of local people than embarrassment over the fake jewellery scandal. The Consumer Council says that last year, for example, it received 102 complaints about dried seafood relating to quality and misleading sales information, 83 complaints about gold, 49 about diamonds and 10 about jade - mostly related to quality. That may not seem many but few people take complaints that far. More regulation generally goes against the grain of free enterprise. In this case, it does not trouble the reputable majority of the business community and deserves support. Consumer trust is important to Hong Kong emerging from the global slowdown stronger and more confident.