Cooling-off period for e-shoppers proposed
Online shoppers should be granted a seven-day cool-off period, within which they would be able to get a refund, a draft amendment presented to the legislature on Tuesday has proposed.
The move, which comes 20 years after the enactment of a consumer rights law, wants to ensure e-shoppers' right to choose and grant them the right to unilaterally terminate contracts.
"Consumers should have the right to return goods within seven days and get a refund," the proposal said, adding that business owners have to refund consumers within a seven-day period after they receive the goods.
Li Shishi, director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, the top legislature, said the proposal also applies to TV and phone sales.
This is the first time that the top legislature is considering amending the consumer rights law to protect online shoppers' rights and interests, amid the explosion of China's e-commerce market.
Internet, TV and telephone-based shopping are surging, Li said.
While briefing national lawmakers during a three-day bimonthly legislative session that opened on Tuesday, Li said that the new shopping forms — such as e-shopping — differ from conventional shopping, as online shoppers cannot check the goods' authenticity and are susceptible to deceptive advertising.
"Consumers select the goods merely through pictures and text descriptions," he said.
China's consumer rights law, which was enacted in 1993, does not have stipulations on the protection of online consumer rights.
"Consumption patterns, structure and concepts in China have undergone great changes over the past two decades," Li said, adding that the proposal aims to adapt the law to today's consumers.
The proposal stresses the right of consumers to get accurate information, adding that sellers should provide authentic information about their products or services to e-shoppers.
"Online shoppers will be able to ask for compensation from the e-trade platforms where the transactions took place, even if the seller has stopped using the platform," the draft said, adding that the platform can then claim compensation from the seller after paying the compensation to e-shoppers.
The requirement, if passed, will affect mostly business-to-consumer online stores, as wells as platforms such as Amazon and Tmall, a major domestic shopping site.
Yu Bin, a property manager in Tianjin, said he was once cheated when he shopped online for a USB modem, which included 12 months of Internet access.
"I bought the modem at an online store, which offered a very impressive discount. But the device stopped working after one month, even though I paid for a full year of service," the man said.
He said that he then tried to contact the shop owner, but the entire online store had disappeared from the shopping website.
However, Liu Junhai, deputy director of the China Consumers' Association, said that the draft amendment won't be able to protect consumers such as Yu, since the product was bought in a consumer-to-consumer website instead of a business-to-consumer site.
Chinese authorities do not require C2C traders to register with local business administration authorities and hence do not tax these traders, even though some of the businesses have expanded to a considerable level.
Liu said that the loophole should be addressed, as almost 70 percent of online sales are conducted between consumers and C2C dealers.
The role of consumer associations and the supervision of consumer rights protection will be boosted to prevent disputes. National and local associations above the provincial level will be able to file class actions in cases where the rights of a large group of consumers are infringed.
The draft clarifies the protection of personal information, as leaks seriously affect people's lives and legal rights. Consumers will be entitled to the rights of their names, portraits and privacy. Business owners should obtain the consumers' consent and explicitly explain the purpose, form and scope of information use before collecting and using consumers' personal information.
Penalties for commercial fraud should involve fines equivalent to twice the value of goods or services, with a minimum fine set at 500 yuan ($73). Criminal liabilities will be pursued for those whose defective products damage consumers' health or result in death.
Responsibility of advertisers
Those who release deceptive advertisements concerning food, drugs and other goods related to consumers' lives and health are subject to joint liability with manufacturers.
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