Return policy rife with abuse

ONLINE shopping has become a part of our lives because it is convenient, offers more variety and is cheaper than buying from stores.

Although I still prefer the conventional shopping experience, as I want to smell the products or feel the materials, I did purchase some items online, most of them directly from the stores.

What I like most about online shopping is the seven-day money back policy offered by Taobao, the most popular e-commerce platform operated by the Alibaba Group, which allow shoppers to return the goods purchased for any reason or simply because “I don’t like it”.

I returned three items before – a ventilator because I bought the wrong size and two recorders as I was not satisfied with the recording function.

The process was simple. I just have to contact customer service, fill in the particulars, call the courier for pick up and pay the fees.

As the goods were insured, I received some of the courier fees back and only absorbed a few yuan (one yuan is about RM0.60).

I came across some shopping addicts who bought everything from sports equipment and lingerie to tissue papers online.

“Don’t you have to try on the dresses?” I asked, and the common reply would be: “I just return them if I don’t like.”

It is very obvious that a policy initially set up to protect consumers has been abused by some people.

A small retailer said she spent 80% of her time dealing with unreasonable customers.

“I tried to persuade them to accept the items and gave discounts if there were minor defects that occurred in the delivery process, making less money being better than nothing at all,” she added.

There was one time when I found a small crack line on the clay cover of my slow cooker upon receiving it, and I was offered a two yuan (RM1.20) discount.

I accepted the money because customer service assured me the crack would not affect its function.

She was right – I have been using it for two years now without any problem.

Recently, a dispute between a buyer and a Taobao retailer became a hot issue online with netizens condemning the buyer for abusing the seven-day refund policy.

It started with the woman, identified as Huang, purchasing 18 dresses totalling 4,600 yuan (RM2,777) from an online retailer on April 25.

On May 5, she requested to return all of them.

Li, the shop operator, rejected the request because she missed the refund deadline.

Huang then complained to Taobao customer service, which later ordered the shop to proceed with the refund.

Due to this, Li added Huang as a WeChat friend to find out why she did not like the products and was shocked to see that the woman had posted outdoor pictures of her wearing some of the clothes.

“She wore the dresses on a trip to Tibet during the Labour Day holiday, took pictures and posted them to show off then returned all the items,” Li complained to the local dailies.

When she was exposed, Huang explained that she merely wore the dresses and took a picture.

“I took them off immediately after taking photos. All the labels are still intact and won’t affect the second sale,” she added.

She said she knew she was wrong and apologised to the seller.

The issue generated a heated debate online as to whether Huang should get her money back.

It also caught the attention of the online shopping platform’s mother company, the Alibaba Group, which proposed that nine of the dresses the customer had worn could not be returned.

Huang agreed to the solution.

Li claimed that this was not the first time he had come across people abusing the refund policy and wore new clothes for free, especially during long holidays.

I have seen people on the streets here wearing clothes with the label attached on them.

At first, I thought they just wanted to show off the brands but none of the names were familiar to me, thinking I was just being ignorant.

Now I finally knew the reason.

On and off, there were online posts exposing people trying out the garments at outlets of designer brands, posting their pictures to show off but never buying them.

Following this, some online retailers also turned to the Internet to voice their grouses.

Happy Wei wrote that a customer bought a shirt from his shop and two months later, the person purchased another piece of the same design and colour but this time, he returned the item upon receiving it.

“When I unpacked, it was an old shirt which had been washed and I suspected that the person returned the old one to me,” he said.

Another retailer, who had the same experience as Wei, claimed a customer returned silk underwear she bought a year ago.

Cheese Foam Yam said her university friend would still wear the clothes that she planned to return.

A seller said a customer returned a shampoo bottle filled with water to him.

Xixi Mengmeng Pets said a customer bought a Husky dog but returned a mixed breed to her.

Some retailers said they did not want to make a big fuss because the buyers would threaten to give them a bad rating.

“The consumers are protected. What about our rights?” they asked.

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