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Online shoppers' rights 'must be protected'

Updated: 2013-03-15 07:13
By Cao Yin ( China Daily)

The consumer rights of online shoppers need better legal protection, as disputes are continuing to rise, experts said on Thursday.

Articles on e-commerce are scattered throughout Chinese law, yet judges say most are too general to help when it comes to court battles.

"It's time to update the Consumer Protection Law to cover online purchases," said Wang Yuanyuan, from Haidian District People's Court in Beijing, which has reported an increase in online shopping disputes.

A 2012 survey by the court found many cases involved group-buying websites, which work with third-party businesses to sell discounted products or services for a limited period.

"Lawmakers really need to create special articles for this model of shopping," Wang said, adding that the websites often exaggerate or provide fake descriptions of products.

Group buying sites rarely provide receipts, which makes refunds or exchanges difficult, she said. Wang called for a regulation to regulate group buying.

Beijing's No 2 Intermediate People's Court handled 20 cases involving consumer's rights, the majority of which involved online shopping in the past year, and Judge Quan Yiying predicted the number will continue to rise.

"Most customers prefer to complain to associations instead of appealing to courts because they think a lawsuit will cost more money," she said.

Shoppers should read the terms and conditions carefully before buying items online to avoid potential problems, she said, "because sellers sometimes include special clauses".

In 2011, a woman who unknowingly bought fake furniture online successfully sued the seller, in large part, Quan said, because she had copied images from the Web page to show the court that what she received did not match what was promised.

"With the rapid development of e-commerce, these disputes are going to become more common, which is why updating the law is a must," she said.

Also on the rise over the past two years are complaints over automobile quality.

The intermediate court handled 21 cases involving disputes stemming from car purchases between 2010 and 2012, according to judge Liu Jiangang, who said there were probably many more that did not reach court.

"China has few regulations on automobiles and lacks professional appraisal bodies. Some appraisals cannot be used in a lawsuit, because they are not qualified," he said.

Liu Junhai, vice-president of the China Consumers' Association, agreed. "The industry is a mess. We urgently need strict regulations," he said.