As the Hong Kong online shopping market grows, so do the risks, warns the Hong Kong Consumer Council, which has called for the government to regulate the industry.
Chairman Professor Wong Yuk-shan says 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 – the council received 3300 to 5600 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 causes of complaint, while online flight and travel sales was the most troublesome sector, accounting for 39 per cent of complaints. This was followed by electronics at 13 per cent.
“Some air ticket price-comparison sites don’t include fuel surcharges and meal fees in searches, which would bias the ranking of the options,” says Wong. Also, the websites themselves can cause such problems as double-booked tickets.
He also says customers’ personal information is at risk of leaks.
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 movies, like the UK introduced last year.
The council suggests the government learn from other countries and introduce a cooling-off period so shoppers can withdraw online transactions within a specified time. China and Taiwan give seven days for consumers to cancel deals, while the EU allows 14 days.
The council also proposes an online dispute resolution platform be established for Asia, handling complaints about cross-border eCommerce transactions.
A poll run by the council, surveying 1010 people, found that online shoppers spend HK$15,250 (US$1966) on average per year online, with each purchase averaging HK$790.
Non-branded clothes are the most popular items, followed by books and toys.