Oversight to ensure HK is a shopper's paradise

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 May, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong bills itself as a shopper's paradise, a term that implies that great deals can be had and consumers are king. There is no disputing that an Aladdin's cave of goods and services are on offer, and that prices can be competitive. But customers are not always well protected - at least when they purchase services rather than goods.

As a result, we hear of shonky sales practices by telecommunications, health and beauty companies. Now the government has decided to deal with the services aspect of the oversight; this week it proposed that such practices as high-pressure sales tactics and accepting prepayment without the intention to offer advertised services be criminalised. That is a very welcome, if long overdue, move. We need this proposal to be enacted as part of the Trade Description Ordinance as quickly as possible.

Without it, many people have endured rip-offs and scams devoid of protection or redress. There have been countless victims. In the past two months, hundreds of people have been left out of pocket by the closure of two yoga chains; some were convinced to prepay fees without knowing that the doors were about to shut. Unscrupulous beauty clinic operators have for years been pressuring customers into expensive treatments. And contracts involving mobile phone and pay-TV firms have consistently topped the list of Consumer Council complaints. We do not want or need a nanny government; customers must exercise due care when buying goods or services and should not complain simply because they have made bad choices. But at the same time we need protection from underhanded practices, or deliberate withholding of information, or cheating.

Rules protecting goods are now sturdy. Those for services and property remain deficient. Public consultation has been promised on services, but the government says property and financial products will not be covered because of measures already taken and reviews that are under way. It is important to ask the community what they want. But delaying debate that will potentially water down laws is not what we need. Customers require the best protection as soon as possible, regardless of what they are buying or signing up for. Only then can we truly be a shopper's paradise.