Consumer watchdog names and shames milk-powder trader over dodgy online practices
Baby products company exposed after watchdog receives 91 complaints involving HK$285,000
In its first action involving internet sales, the Consumer Council has named and shamed a company selling infant formula online for unethical practices.
The council received 91 complaints involving HK$285,000 against Birth Enterprise, a company registered in Hong Kong, from May last year until June this year.
Birth Enterprise sells milk powder and other baby products through its website, birth.hk Most of the complaints were related to non-delivery or partial delivery of goods, unnecessary delays and failure to provide full or partial refunds. In some cases, it persuaded customers to buy less popular brands after accepting their orders and payments.
The operator has also gradually removed crucial contact information from its website, the council said. Instead of a hotline telephone number, only a mobile phone number is provided, and the company's business address in Hong Kong has been deleted.
All of the company's victims were from the mainland and ordered milk powder from the website.
Council member Professor Angela Ng Lai-ping said customers had found it very difficult to reach the company with their complaints.
One complainant ordered 36 tins of milk powder for her son in June last year, paying HK$8,640. Birth Enterprise said it would take two to three weeks to deliver the goods, but the woman had only received two tins to date.
Her son no longer needs the milk powder, and her request for a refund was ignored.
Ng said the company declined to meet the council when it was first contacted in March and in the following months.
"It became increasingly difficult to get in touch with the trader by phone, e-mail or letter, while a substantial number of complaint cases remain unresolved," she said, noting that 69 of the complaints had not been settled.
When the council met representatives of the company last month they were told that they could not shut down the website because they would not have the money to refund customers if they stopped doing business.
Most affected parents bought New Zealand's Karicare Aptamil or the Netherland's Friso from the website.
The Customs and Excise Department said last night that it was pursuing a number of the complaints referred by the Consumer Council and individual consumers and that a person in charge of the company had been arrested and was released on bail.
The council received 1,683 complaints related to online shopping in the first six months of the year, up 16 per cent from the same period last year.
Ng advised consumers to be careful when shopping online and to look for shops that guaranteed refunds or had exchange policies.
She also reminded customers that cross-border online buying could be complicated because of legal jurisdiction issues.