Complaints soar at shoddy sales tactics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2012, 12:00am


Complaints against unscrupulous sales tactics by shops selling expensive ginseng and dried seafood have soared despite a law against unclear pricing and quantity labels, the Consumer Council said yesterday.

The council received 305 complaints against the shops last year, a rise of 34 per cent from 2010. Almost all of the complaints were filed by tourists.

In one case, a mainlander was handed a HK$28,656 bill for herbal powder he did not ask for.

The complaints prompted calls by the council and a lawmaker for customs officers to crack down on the practice.

'It would really help if customs officers went undercover in some tourist hot spots. They might not have been serious enough so far about enforcing the ordinance,' said lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming, who is the Democratic Party's spokesman on consumer affairs.

Many of the complaints targeted misleading and dishonest practices such as refusing to state an accurate price for an item and charging consumers much more on their credit cards than the agreed price, the council said in its latest issue of Choice magazine.

An amendment to the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, which came into effect in 2009, prohibits unclear pricing and quantity labels by criminalising these practices. But the number of complaints has increased since the amendment was enforced. In 2009, the council received 159 complaints, about half of last year's figure.

Both the council and Li said the ordinance should be strong and clear enough to deter such practices. They said customs officers might need to step up inspections for the ordinance to be effective.

A customs spokesman said there had been nine prosecutions since the ordinance came in, eight of them in 2009. They said it was difficult to gather evidence as many of the shops were aware of officers being around, even if they were undercover.

The council has a name-and-shame list for unscrupulous traders but it has not named any ginseng and dried seafood shop to date.

Professor Ron Hui Shu-yuen of the council said it was considering naming some shops and would decide after a meeting.

In one case, a mainland visitor was persuaded by a shop worker to buy Chinese herbs to strengthen his health. He was told the herbs were priced from HK$8 to HK$385, but refused to tell him how much for each unit.

The mainlander was not given an answer when he repeatedly asked for a breakdown of the herb items. The herbal ingredients were ground into fine powder in three jars. The visitor paid with his credit card, but found later that he had been charged HK$28,656 when he got his credit card statement.

The shop agreed to cancel the transaction after police mediation, but insisted that the man buy a jar of the powder for HK$5,000. It refused his request for a further refund.

Meanwhile, the council is warning shoppers to pay more attention to after-sales services offered when buying computer products, as the number of complaints about such services rose from 284 in 2010 to 667 last year.

Most of the complaints related to repairs, product quality or sales practices. A survey on notebooks, net books and tablets also found plenty of restrictions on replacement and maintenance services for the products.

In some cases, consumers were denied a replacement when it was clearly stated on a receipt that a defective device would be replaced within seven days of purchase.


Mainlanders made up this percentage of total complaints made to the Consumer Council against dodgy ginseng and dried seafood shops