E-commerce tops the sector with the most complaints received by the National Consumer Complaints Centre for two consecutive years. As more Malaysians turn to the Internet to purchase goods and services, there is a pressing need for an improved legal framework to protect their rights.
ONLINE shoppers, beware. The e-commerce sector continues to top the list of complaints by Malaysian consumers, with the National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) finding that an increasing number of Malaysians are falling victim to unscrupulous online merchants.
These are mainly products offered by the merchants or direct-sellers who advertise them on social networking sites and online shopping platforms, which lack the consumer protection clout accorded by the industry.
NCCC’s Annual Consumer Complaints Report 2015 stated that 7,692 complaints were lodged with NCCC in 2015, amounting to a loss of RM4 million. In 2014, there were 7,641 complaints.
NCCC legal and policy executive Shabana Naser Ahmad says the e-commerce sector tops the total number of consumer complaints from a total of 23 sectors for two consecutive years.
Referring to NCCC’s Annual Consumer Complaints Report 2015, she says online scamming is one of the three top complaints, other than product delivery and quality.
In the case of online scams, she says, scammers set up fake websites offering goods and services.
“These people usually advertise their products on social media and instant messaging service. They claim to be legitimate online sellers and dupe consumers into making payments into personal bank accounts in order to receive the products and services.”
“Once payments are made, the scammers disappear without a trace. Even the websites and phone numbers are no longer available.”
Besides being victims of online scamming, many consumers also claim to be given the runaround and empty promises when it comes to product delivery, with some products taking more than a month to arrive.
On product quality, she says, more and more consumers who purchase their products online are not satisfied with them.
“We have received numerous complaints on broken or defective products after two of three times of use. Many of them claimed that merchants refused to refund them, or that the product exchange process took a long time.
“There have been occasions when merchants tried to manipulate the situation by presenting the consumers with invalid vouchers, or vouchers that were close to their expiry date.”
Another trap that online shoppers often succumb to, she says, are misleading advertisements.
“Products purchased did not match the picture/description of products advertised online.”
Other complaints are on price disputes, unauthorised cancellations of purchases, missing items, product safety, purchase from individuals instead of registered companies, scope of warranty and unauthorised use of credit cards.
“In the case of cancellations, a purchase order that has been cancelled continues to be charged,” she says, urging consumers to monitor their bank statements to see any signs of fraudulent transactions.
Shabana says NCCC also notes an increasing trend among merchants who shirk their responsibility pertaining to missing products.
“In most cases, the merchants blamed the courier companies for the missing items. Because of this, consumers are not sure where to go to lodge their complaints.”
She says the actual losses suffered could be much higher than indicated in the data because many shoppers who fall prey to bogus merchants do not report on the incidents as they are not sure where to go.
“The number of online shoppers is rising and it will continue to increase as more and more people can access the Internet with their computers, tablets or mobile devices. Because of this, there is a need for an improved legal protection for online shoppers.
“NCCC and the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca) have submitted a memorandum to the government to call for amendments to certain outdated laws on e-commerce,” she says, referring to the Contract Act 1950 and the Sale of Goods Act 1957, the general law on contracts and a sale of goods contracts.
Some of the proposals to further strengthen and safeguard the interest of e-consumers in Malaysia include:
IMPLEMENTING a “cooling off period” for up to 14 days;
INCREASING education awareness programmes for the public on their rights; and,
INTRODUCING a platform to allow online consumer reviews.
E-commerce transactions are governed by the Electronic Commerce Act 2006 (ECA) under the jurisdiction of the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry. However, the ECA has no provisions on how to protect consumers while making electronic transactions.
Online shoppers make up one-third of Internet users in the country, at 35.3 per cent and studies have indicated that the figure is growing.
According to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) Internet Users Survey 2016, 10.3 per cent of online window shoppers who browsed online shopping websites, but had yet to make any purchases, would eventually jump onto the bandwagon.
The studies also found out that females represented the bulk of online shoppers at 51.7 percent, with two-thirds of them youths aged between 20 and 39 years.
It also found out that nine out of 10 shoppers enjoyed the convenience of delivery services, while eight of 10 perceived that online products were cheaper than store-bought items.
Last year, MCMC received a total of 287 complaints on e-commerce transactions. However, e-commerce does not fall under the purview of MCMC.
“MCMC would like to advise consumers to exercise caution and know their rights when dealing with communications and multimedia, as well as online shopping-related matters,” it said in a statement to the New Sunday Times.
In October, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin said the ministry would review its direct selling guidelines to enable the authorities to go after those who violate conditions set in the law, in a move to protect online shoppers.
These guidelines, he said, were the supplementary conditions to the Direct Sales and Anti-Pyramid Schemes Act 1993 and were applicable to direct selling licence application and renewal.