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Consumers welcome proposed changes to law against errant retailers

SINGAPORE — The proposed legislative changes to give the authorities more teeth to go after unscrupulous retailers were welcomed by consumers although some wished for provisions to be put in place to secure refunds or compensation for those who had been cheated.

Sim Lim Square has been in the public spotlight for some of its tenants’ business practices. Most of the mall’s retailers welcomed the changes, saying they hoped it would restore consumer confidence and boost business. TODAY file photo

Sim Lim Square has been in the public spotlight for some of its tenants’ business practices. Most of the mall’s retailers welcomed the changes, saying they hoped it would restore consumer confidence and boost business. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — The proposed legislative changes to give the authorities more teeth to go after unscrupulous retailers were welcomed by consumers although some wished for provisions to be put in place to secure refunds or compensation for those who had been cheated.

Nevertheless, they agreed that consumers should exercise caution in their purchases to begin with and felt the proposed changes, if passed, would help in triggering caution against bad eggs in the retail industry.

The mooted amendments to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act allow public officers from the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (Spring Singapore) to march into any store to seize evidence as part of their investigation against errant retailers, and then file a court injunction for the retailers to stop their business.

Retailers under an injunction order could also be compelled by the courts to make their status publicly known to consumers by printing it on sales invoices or in the form of a poster pasted at their shopfront. If the retailer wants to change its business address or name, he must notify Spring about any changes.

Errant retailers who do not comply with injunction orders could also face contempt of court, which carries penalties ranging from a fine to imprisonment. These proposed amendments, which will cover all registered businesses, including online retailers, were put up for public feedback since Monday.

Consumers TODAY interviewed noted the Consumers Association of Singapore’s (Case) present lack of teeth, saying the proposed changes would improve retail practices.

But customers who have been cheated by businesses would have gone through a “very traumatising experience” and the authorities should be given the power to make the errant company compensate or refund their victims in the form of cash or vouchers, said a consumer who wanted to be known only as May.

Another consumer, Mr Edmund Chua, suggested that an offending retailer could have its assets frozen, proportionate to the amount of money in dispute between the business and its customers.

“If (the authorities) cannot enforce (recourse), frankly, it all boils down to zero,” said the 41-year-old financial advisor. He added that since only a small amount of a retailer’s assets would be frozen, it would not be unfair to the business even if they are given the all-clear eventually.

Still, Mr Chua said consumers must be careful and responsible with their decisions before making a purchase and should not mistake their own buyer’s remorse for misdeeds by the companies.

Agreeing, undergraduate Jemson Chan, 23, said the proposed changes could be “a real breakthrough when detecting fraudulent shops”.

“Individual complaints may not be enough of a deterrent to scare off fraudulent shop owners,” said Mr Chan, who patronises Sim Lim Square once a month to buy computer accessories.

The mall has been in the public spotlight for some of its tenants’ business practices, including the infamous Mobile Air case in 2014, where a Vietnamese tourist in Singapore was caught on video begging on his knees for a refund from the shop.

Most of the retailers in Sim Lim Square that TODAY spoke to also welcomed the changes, saying they hoped it would restore consumer confidence in the mall and boost business.

Mr John Chong, manager of Alan Photo, said that by red-flagging businesses under an injunction order, it would give patrons peace of mind knowing they would not be ripped off.

Another mobile phone salesperson in the mall, who wanted to be known as Mr Chee, added that “if the bad (retailers) got out of the building, then maybe customers will trust us a bit more and they will come back more”.

Agreeing, another salesperson at a camera store who declined to be named, said: “Whether they buy or don’t buy, at least they know that something has been changed.”

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