Easing e-refunds

By Chu Daye Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-24 22:43:04

Photo: IC

Liu Shuang bought a Swiss multitool knife for 799 yuan ($128.32)  from a business to customer (B2C) e-commerce platform in 2013, only to find it was slightly different to that depicted on the online shopping mall's product gallery.

"The product lacks a beautiful red marking that reads 'Swisstool,'" Liu said, "and it matters a lot to me as I collect Swiss knives."

The same product, with the marking, sells in shopping malls for about 1,500 yuan.

Liu immediately asked for a swap. The site jd.com responded, but the replacement was the same as the first.

"I thought about asking for a return, but the policy back then was that I must find some quality issue about the product."

"It was about a year ago, but I still can't get over it."

That's why 30-year-old Liu likes the newly amended consumer law that allows consumers to obtain unconditional refunds on their purchases.

"I could just ask for a return without all the bother," Liu said.  "I definitely support the new law, as it gives consumers more options."


Taking effect on March 15, World Consumer Rights Day, the revised law allows a "seven-day unconditional return"  from the date of receipt for goods purchased via the Internet, television, telephone or mail order.

"The original consumer rights law in 1993 could not effectively deal with new problems that arise in the fast-growing service industry in the last two decades, particularly in the Internet and finance sectors, so a revision of the law addresses the issues of our time," Wang Zhu, an associate professor of Sichuan University Law School and an expert on consumer rights, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Online retailing grossed 1.85 trillion yuan in 2013, making China the world's largest online retail market, data from the Ministry of Commerce shows.

The Hangzhou-based China e-Business Research Center platform for complaints and consumer rights protection received 97,350 complaints in 2013, a 4 percent rise on 2012.

Among China's hundreds of thousands of online shopping malls, taobao.com and tmall.com, platforms operated by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, received the most complaints, or 13.93 percent of the total.

Other top-rated websites monitored by the center include shopping platforms operated by Internet giant Tencent, such as yixun.com and wanggou.com, and by e-commerce platform dangdang.com.

There has been no sudden rise in requests for returns recorded since the new law was implemented on March 15, a taobao.com press officer told the Global Times on Thursday. She declined to be named.

"A large number of vendors on taobao.com have already been enrolled on taobao's own seven-day unconditional return policy since March 2008," he said.

Other than for taobao.com and a few other platforms, the law's provisions are a new thing, Yao Jianfang, a legal rights analyst at the center, told the Global Times Thursday.

"The law now enlarges the scope of consumer rights to include virtually all online vendors and will better protect e-shoppers' interests," Yao said.

Besides protecting e-shoppers, the new law is more effective at safeguarding transactions and consumers can now feel more secure shopping, Qiu Baochang, president of the legal panel at China Consumers Association, told the Global Times Sunday. That could boost trading volume, he said.


Some vendors remain reluctant to cooperate, and time and effort will be needed to sort out some of the legal definitions, say analysts.

Goods returned by the consumer should still be good for resale, the law stipulates. This leaves room for maneuvering.

A vendor who operates a shop selling aquariums on taobao.com hinted customers go try other shops when asked whether he would accept unconditional return.

"The law is there, but who will shoulder the cost if my fish tank gets broken during its return trip?" he told the Global Times on Sunday.

"Postal and delivery services are unpredictable these days."

Picky customers should buy direct from street shops, he said, as returns cost money and energy on both sides.

"We operate on a thin margin," he said.

Some vendors impose hidden thresholds which make an unconditional return a thorny business for buyers, Yao said.

"At the execution level, certain goods like cosmetics, belong to a gray area that is really open to interpretation and currently rely on the vendors' business ethics to see consumer's rights are fully protected."


The law will make strong players thrive as small, low-quality players are phased out of the market, Yao believed.

Wang agreed with Yao, noting that increased responsibility leads to increased legal costs.

"Swift transaction, large trading volume, low manpower were once the advantages of online vendors," Wang said. "Expanded services and rising legal risks compromise that advantage."

Smaller online shops and companies will have more financing difficulties in future, Wang believed.

To avoid over-protecting consumers, the law requires delivery fees for returning the product be borne by the consumer, which limits intentional returns or malicious competition among vendors, Wang said.

Regulators should be careful about striking the right balance so as not to dampen trade, Wang warned.

"If regulations and laws imposed on vendors are too mean, it will hurt commerce and dent the willingness of those who do business," he said.

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