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Complaints on online purchases doubled in 2020, as more turned to e-commerce during pandemic: Case

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s consumer watchdog received twice as many complaints relating to online purchases last year as it did in 2019, as more consumers turned to online shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Consumers Association of Singapore received 4,366 complaints relating to online purchases in 2020, a 95 per cent spike from 2,236 complaints in 2019.

The Consumers Association of Singapore received 4,366 complaints relating to online purchases in 2020, a 95 per cent spike from 2,236 complaints in 2019.

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  • In 2020, the Consumers Association of Singapore saw a 23 per cent rise in consumer complaints compared with 2019 
  • In particular, complaints relating to online purchases doubled as more consumers shopped online during the pandemic
  • There were sharp jumps in grouses against industries such as travel, medical consumables and aviation, and clubs and hotels
  • But complaints against the beauty and motorcar sectors fell, likely due to the closure of non-essential businesses during the 2020 circuit breaker 

 

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s consumer watchdog received twice as many complaints relating to online purchases last year as it did in 2019, as more consumers turned to online shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received a total of 18,335 consumer complaints last year, a 23 per cent climb from 14,867 the year before. 

There were sharp jumps in grouses against industries such as travel, medical consumables and aviation, and clubs and hotels, the association said in a statement on Monday (May 31).

One in seven of the complaints received last year were pandemic-related, half of which were against the travel and airline sectors.

ONLINE PURCHASES

  • Case received 4,366 complaints relating to online purchases last year, a 95 per cent spike from 2,236 complaints in 2019 

  • The surge came at a time when the shopping patterns of consumers have changed because of restrictions and health concerns brought on by Covid-19

  • Common e-commerce complaints included reports of faulty goods, late deliveries and missing products

  • Case president Lim Biow Chuan said that given the shift in consumer shopping behaviour, the association would do more to educate consumers on protecting themselves should purchases go awry

TRAVEL, AIRLINE SECTORS

  • Case said that about 50 per cent of the Covid-19-related complaints it got last year were against the travel and airline industries 

  • Owing to global travel restrictions, consumers who had to cancel or postpone their tours, flights and hotel bookings complained of being unable to get a refund of their deposits

  • Some consumers were also charged a penalty or administrative fee for postponing their trips. Others were awarded travel vouchers instead of cash refunds

  • Case said that it could not resolve some pandemic-related contractual disputes with travel agents and hotels. In such cases, it guided consumers in filing their cases with an assessor from the Ministry of Law under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020. The law provides temporary measures and deals with other matters relating to the pandemic

  • Airlines facing more complaints were urged to be flexible in the use of travel vouchers and to offer a right of reimbursement to consumers if the vouchers are not used

  • Case also engaged two Singapore travel associations to encourage their members to offer consumers a full refund of prepayments made for tour packages

  • Overall, more than S$300,000 in prepayments from airlines, travel agencies and travel portals were recovered through Case’s mediation efforts

MEDICAL, MEDICAL CONSUMABLES SECTORS

  • Case recorded 1,256 complaints against the medical and medical consumables industries last year

  • At least 813 of these were related to medical consumables

  • Consumers generally complained about the price of surgical masks, hand sanitiser and other medical consumables put on sale by brick-and-mortar and online retailers

  • Some consumers also grumbled that retailers had misled them on the quality of surgical masks

  • Case worked with the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore to monitor and identify profiteering behaviour and unfair practices

GYMS, FITNESS CLUBS

  • There were 356 complaints against gyms and fitness clubs last year, a 91 per cent increase from 2019

  • Consumers sought Case’s help to obtain a partial refund or an extension on their prepaid gym or fitness club memberships, since they could not use these facilities during the circuit-breaker partial lockdown to combat Covid-19 from April to June last year

  • Consumers who found it hard to book exercise slots owing to safe-distancing capacity limits also sought Case’s help to get full or partial refunds on their prepaid memberships 

BRIDAL, HOTEL AND RESTAURANT SECTORS

  • The watchdog received 169 pandemic-related complaints against the bridal, hotel and restaurant industries

  • Consumers who could not or did not wish to proceed with their event bookings because of circuit-breaker restrictions and measures to reopen Singapore in phases faced difficulties in getting back their deposits, Case said

  • Some bridal salons and hotels gave the sole option of postponing wedding ceremonies or cited clauses such as those stating that bookings made were non-refundable

  • Consumers eventually recovered more than S$97,000 worth of prepayments from their event contracts with Case’s help 

BEAUTY, MOTORCAR SECTORS 

  • Case received 1,363 complaints against the beauty industry and 1,180 complaints against the motorcar industry last year — fewer than in 2019

  • The drops were attributed to the closure of non-essential businesses during the circuit breaker 

  • A third of the complaints against the beauty industry were related to unfair practices, such as aggressive sales tactics. Consumers also complained that they were tricked into believing that they were paying promotional prices for treatments, but ended up being pressured into forking out more for higher-end treatments

  • In response to the complaints, three beauty salons signed voluntary compliance agreements with Case under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act — which protects consumers against unfair practices — where the salons committed to ending such practices

  • As for the motorcar industry, defective vehicles formed 36 per cent of complaints. Consumers found vehicle defects after purchase and sought recourse from dealers, to no avail

Graphic: Anam Musta'ein/TODAY

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