Calls for Hong Kong government to bring in laws protecting online shoppers

Consumer Council says city lags other places in protecting buyers, leaving people at risk over money and privacy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 3:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 9:35pm

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has called for the government to regulate the online shopping industry, saying the city has been left behind in protecting buyers’ rights in the digital age.

Although only 23 per cent of Hongkongers regularly shop online – lower than 67 per cent in China and 78 per cent in the US – Consumer Council chairman Professor Wong Yuk-shan said that number was growing, along with the risks.

The council received 3,300 to 5,600 complaints about online shopping each year between 2013 to 2015, making up 11 to 18 per cent of all complaints.

Late delivery, price disputes and poor service were the most common reasons for local consumers’ anger.

Online flight and travel sales got the most complaints, accounting for 39 per cent of the total for online shopping.

And electronics accounted for 13 per cent of that total, according to the watchdog.

“Some air ticket price comparison sites don’t include fuel surcharges and meal fees in searches, which would bias the ranking of the options,” Wong said. He added that the insufficient system capacity of the websites can also generate problems, such as double-booking of tickets.

Despite the growing popularity of online shopping in the city, the current regulations could be outdated and insufficient in protecting consumers, Wong said, adding that that could lessen competition.

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And customers’ personal information was at risk of leaks, he said.

For example, there is no Hong Kong legislation governing information used for online purchases.

Neither is there a specific clause protecting consumer rights for digital goods, such as software or downloaded films, like the UK introduced in 2015.

The council suggested the government learn from other countries and introduce a cooling-off period allowing shoppers to withdraw online transactions within a certain period of time.

Mainland China and Taiwan give 7 days for consumers to cancel the deals, while the EU allows 14 days.

The council also proposed establishing an online dispute resolution platform for Asia, handling complaints about cross-border transactions. Dealing with complaints tends to be more difficult when overseas sellers are involved, Gilly Wong Fung-han, chief executive at the council, said.

A poll conducted by the council, surveying 1,010 people in the city, found that online shoppers spent HK$15,250 on average per year online, with each purchase averaging HK$790.

Non-branded clothes were the most popular items, followed by books and toys.