In a major effort to protect customers' interests, China has pledged to regulate online group buying, a thriving market with increasing illegal trading activities in recent years.
The State Administration for Industry and Commerce urged its local authorities to examine the qualifications of online group buying providers and supervise them, according to the latest circular posted on the administration's website on Wednesday.
Problems such as fraud, fake products and price hikes are arising frequently as the industry becomes popular in China, the circular said.
"Disputes and complaints related to online group buying have seen a sharp rise," the administration noted.
According to a report released on Wednesday by China E-Commerce Research Center, an independent research institute based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, a total of 203 million people participated in online shopping in China in 2011, up 28.5 percent from the previous year.
The country's online retail sales reached 801 billion yuan ($126.5 billion) last year, a sharp increase from 514 billion yuan in 2010, the report said.
As the group-buying market thrives in China, the number of group-buying websites hit 3,909 in December, up from 2,630 in January last year, the institute's statistics showed.
The institute collected about 100,000 complaints related to e-commerce via its online platform last year, 25 percent of which involved online group buying, the report said.
"At present, online shopping gets so many complaints because the country now lacks strict regulations and supervision of such service providers," said Wu Xuefei, a senior researcher at the institute.
In May, gaopeng.com, a Chinese group buying portal launched by Groupon Inc and Tencent Holdings, fired a vice-president after discovering that some of its employees were found to have cheated in an iPhone lottery on weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.
The scandal drew online queries about the credibility of the website when the "lucky winners" turned out to be gaopeng employees.
Analysts said the latest circular is timely and will boost a sound development of the online group buying industry.
"I spent 400 yuan to purchase a spa treatment service through online group buying last year. Since so many consumers bought the product in such a short time, I could not have my spa service within the specified date and my payment finally became invalid," said Wang Xin, a 28-year-old Beijing consumer.
Such complaints may be avoided if group buying websites are required to clarify details on delivery, payment, exchange and the return of goods and services before trading, according to the circular.
The circular prohibits online group buying providers from refusing to return an advance payment when the time limit is exceeded and the service becomes invalid. It also bans unfair competition, Wu said.
1. How will China regulate online group buying?
2. What are some problems?
3. How many people in China went shopping online in 2011?
1. Group buying websites would be required to clarify details on delivery, payment, exchange and the return of goods and services before trading, and be prohibited from refusing to return advance payments after time limit is expired.
2. Fraud, fake products and price hikes.
3. 203 million.
（中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑）
About the broadcaster:
Nelly Min is an editor at China Daily with more than 10 years of experience as a newspaper editor and photographer. She has worked at major newspapers in the U.S., including the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free Press. She is also fluent in Korean.