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Expats applaud protection for online buyers

By Hu Min   (Shanghai Daily)

08:49, April 26, 2013

Expats living in the city gave thumbs up to the draft amendments for the consumer rights law that mandate a seven-day return period for products bought online, while experts said its implementation remains a challenge.

With online shopping gaining popularity among expats, complaints are also on the rise. Expats said they had high expectations for the new version of the law.

"I think it is a good thing because on the Internet you can be lured into buying bigger things on impulse that you might regret later, and seven days is a good period to regain your senses," said Diederik Scheepstra, from the Netherlands.

He said in his country, there is a similar law that is referred to under the phrase "time to think." This applies to the purchase of products and services that are bought at a distance, meaning online or by telephone, and it gives people seven working days to undo the agreement of purchase.

Celine Chanut of France said guaranteeing a minimum standard of quality is important in China, and "updating the law is great."

"From my own experience, poor quality is often the No. 1 problem of buying online, mostly Taobao," she said.

Sellers don't always take responsibility, Chanut said.

"Now I make sure to buy from well-rated professionals, read first the comments from other consumers, compare the products and choose a place not too far in case of returns."

She said her expat friends use translation tools to buy on Taobao, and she heard lot of stories of poor quality products.

"But usually they prefer not to complain because it is too complicated to do it online without mastering the language."

"I have very high expectations for the new consumer rights law," said a Norwegian who gave his name as Ingar, who has lived in the city since the 1980s. "What we need, in addition, is that the courts follow up on the new law," he said.

He said there is a 30-day full-refund period in Norway when people order commodities online, even if there is no fault in the products.

Web shopping tops in complaints

Online shopping, followed by after-sales service of home appliances and the quality of food products, topped the list of consumer complaints in 2012, the city's consumer rights watchdog said in March.

The Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission received about 16,000 complaints about online shopping last year, an increase of 45 percent from 2011, out of the total of 100,168 complaints it got.

Most were triggered by the change or cancellation of orders from online retailers and their failure to deliver products. Many involved low-price sale promotions.

China's top legislature on Tuesday began reading draft amendments to the consumer rights law, marking the first time changes have been considered for the law that took effect 20 years ago, Xinhua reported.

"Consumption patterns, structure and concepts in China have undergone great changes over the past two decades, and new problems have emerged in the field of consumer rights protection," said Li Shishi, director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Li said amending the law aims to improve the protection of consumers' rights and interests, boost consumer confidence and promote "rational consumption that should be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly" as quoted by Xinhua.

One of the clauses stipulates consumers can return products that they buy via e-commerce platforms, television, telephone and mail within seven days of when they get the products and sellers should give consumers a refund within seven days when they get the returned products, but some products that are not subject to return in nature are exceptions.

Vague terms called problematic

Experts said some clauses of the draft amendments are sort of vague, causing difficulties in implementation.

There should be definition on which commodities belong to the category that are not subject to return, said Wang Longde, a legislator. Wang said the terms for returns are very vague.

Online retailer Tmall said it has already ordered all online shops on its platform to stick to the seven-day return promise except some products such as food and gold before the review of the amendment. E-commerce platform Taobao said it has no such regulation, but some shops had already offered the service voluntarily.

Some legislators have called on more consideration for sellers, saying they are vulnerable to people who return products without any reason.

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