Online shopping has become a new mode of consumption. Many families reduce their shopping trips and increase online shopping in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, there are certain risks associated with online shopping. According to the Consumer Council, the number of complaints about online shopping in 2020 is three times that of 2019, an increase of nearly 200%, with delayed delivery, change/termination of contracts and price/charge disputes received largest number of complaints. In addition, the number of online shopping frauds received by the Police in 2020 is two times that of 2019. The situation warrants our concern.
To better understand how people shopped online during the epidemic and the unpleasant experiences they underwent, the DAB Family Affairs Committee recently interviewed 3,212 people in which 33% had the habit of shopping online. Among those who had the habit of shopping online, over 60% shopped online more often during the COVID-19 epidemic, and more than 10% spent over $3,000 more on online shopping than usual, with the largest number of purchases being household groceries and daily necessities. Over 45% of the respondents had unpleasant experiences with online shopping, mostly involving problems such as mismatched goods and defective products. They believe that the government should step up online inspections and enforcement and strengthen the handling of cross-border consumer complaints with the relevant Mainland authorities in order to protect consumers.
1. Study the regulation of e-commerce.
The Government should study the regulation of companies and businesses in e-commerce, following the example of overseas countries. These include the enactment of specific legislation to protect consumers in e-commerce, covering the pre-sale, sale and post-sale stages; the introduction of a cooling-off period - from order confirmation to certain days after the arrival of the goods - to allow consumers to cancel the transaction; and the use of less costly means to assist buyers and sellers in coordinating disputes and handling claims.
2. Strengthen enforcement and online inspections.
The Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) should step up enforcement actions to deter online trade mal-practices. The Police should also enhance its monitoring of the trend regarding online frauds and maintain a close connection with local, Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies to combat such fraudulent cases. Related authorities should increase online inspections and enforcement as well as to take proactive follow-up actions if suspected mal-practices are identified.
3. Enhance the handling of cross-border consumer complaints with the Mainland authorities.
In view of the prevalence of consumer disputes arising from Hong Kong consumers' spending on Mainland online shopping platforms, we recommend that the Consumer Council should strengthen its cooperation with the China Consumers' Association in handling cross-border consumer complaints in order to speed up the processing time and resolve the relevant consumer disputes in a timely manner.
4. Strengthen public messaging and education.
The Government should strengthen public messaging, education and publicity on online shopping to remind the public of the risks and precautions involved in online shopping, and to raise public awareness regarding the protection of consumer’s online shopping rights and to prevent fraud.