Feel wronged by online merchants? Stand up to them

Updated: 2016-11-02 10:09

By BAI PING(China Daily)

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Feel wronged by online merchants? Stand up to them

A woman (right) at a village in Chaohu, Anhui province, shows a pullover she bought online which turned out to be wrong size. [Photo / Xinhua]

Recently I bought an academic book about cross-cultural communication from a popular e-commerce site in China, and was bewildered instead to receive a colorful pamphlet on industrialization several days later.

I logged on to the chat room of the bookstore on the e-mall and learned from its "Customer Service" representatives that the book I wanted had sold out and I could read the thin picture book as a gift.

So would you send the courier again to take back the wrong delivery that I had no interest in and return the money? I asked. No, "Customer Service" wrote back. If I didn't want it, I should mail it back from Beijing to their brick-and-mortar business in Shanghai before they issued the refund.

When I insisted on matters being resolved the other way around, he or she got impatient. "Why don't you just do us a favor by shipping it back to us first," they wrote. "You're too serious."

Quickly I realized this merchant had no intention whatsoever to please an upset customer. When I said I might report the case to their e-mall host, "Customer Service" deleted any incriminating chats between us and challenged me to go ahead through a show of indifference.

For a moment I thought of giving up, blaming bad luck, like many other online shoppers when they encounter disputes involving petty sums of money. A common form of leverage against rogue merchants has been writing negative reviews that could turn future customers away. But there are horror stories of merchants harassing whistle blowers until they retract their comments.

According to the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, a national watchdog of consumer rights, complaints arising from online shopping soared to 145,800 last year, or a 90 percent jump year-on-year. The leading causes of such disputes included shoddy products, fake sales and merchants' reluctance to make a refund.

Yet these cases could be just the tip of the iceberg in a country boasting hundreds of millions of online shoppers. Chinese media reported that half of consumers had bought fake products online, and about 23 percent said they had been refused refunds because they had opened the packages.

Facing rising demand for the protection of online consumers, Beijing Bureau of Industry and Commerce recently signed an agreement with top 10 local e-malls that requires the platforms to refund or compensate online shoppers in advance if the merchants are found to be at fault.

Hangzhou, home to e-commerce behemoths such as Alibaba, has set up courtrooms so people can settle online shopping disputes from their living rooms. The judge, plaintiff, defendant and representatives of the e-commerce platform involved participate in an online chat room, with most such litigation ending within 30 minutes.

To my surprise, justice was swift when I took the matter to my e-mall which directed me to its newly created mediation center that handles disputes between shoppers and merchants.

A few days after I submitted the case with evidence online, mediators called to inform me that they had found the shop was selling something out of stock and the mall would return the money to me shortly. Mailing the brochure back was not necessary.

When I revisited the mediation page to close the case, I saw the merchant was fuming about my refusal to be a good sport. They wrote there would have been no costs for me if I had obliged their request. Now I have caused "heavy losses" to them. Mediators told me a merchant's bad services could be cause for demerit points leading to expulsion from the mall at the year-end appraisal.

"Why are you doing this?" they wrote. I was at a loss for words. It saddened me to think they still didn't get it, pampered by the tolerance of many other shoppers.