Chinese vent fury online after e-commerce player sends staff to gov't bureau to handle complaints against it

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 October, 2015, 7:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 October, 2015, 7:31pm

Chinese e-commerce powerhouse has reportedly stationed employees at the Beijing Municipal Administration of Industry and Commerce (BAIC) to assist with complaints filed by customers against it, Chinese media reported on Thursday.

The issue surfaced amid claims that some of its staff members were "impersonating" bureau employees to deal with complaints lodged against the site. The rumours first appeared on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

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After the matter was brought to light by Weibo user Wang Hai it sparked outrage online from netizens, many of whom described JD's actions as inappropriate.

“If I am making a complaint to [a government] bureau, and handles it directly, then what is the point of me lodging it in the first place?” asked one Weibo user.

BAIC deputy director Lin Shutao later told reporters that the three employees of the e-commerce site at the bureau were just acting as liasons between the two.

According to Lin, the practice is not unprecedented. Lin even suggested it may be a common practice for e-commerce sites in China to assist in this way if the volume of complaints against them starts to put a strain on the system.

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Lin said they are not authorised to be stationed there but may be permitted to work on-site temporarily on a case-by-case basis.

“In order to most efficiently assist the handling of consumer complaints in a manner fully consistent with relevant regulations, locates staff on-site at the local AIC office,” according to a spokesperson fot the company. 

“ staff neither handles nor adjudicates customer issues that come to the bureau, but rather works with staff to help make the process as quick as possible,” the person added.

Several Weibo users said that China's market-leading e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba, which operates the Taobao and Tmall marketplaces, also follows this practice.

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One user claimed she once called to lodge a complaint against Taobao at a similar government bureau in Hangzhou, in east China's Zhejiang province. She said she received a call a few days later from someone who identified themself as an employee from the bureau. 

But when she later redialled the same number it automatically redirected her to one of Taobao's offices, she said.

“Alibaba holds itself to the highest standards of ethical business practices, and we do not engage in any illegal practices or endorse practices that damage China’s online businesses,” an Alibaba spokesperson told the South China Morning Post.

The bureau in Hangzhou could not immediately be reached for comment.