Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Debate: Group-buying shops

(China Daily) Updated: 2011-10-17 07:59

Hu Chen

Honesty is still the best party

The booming group-buying industry has helped increase the number of group-buying websites. In August alone, 168 new websites were started taking the total number in China to 5,039, according to figures from, a group-buying navigation website.

The presence of a large number of newcomers in group-buying business doesn't mean the sector is profitable for all. Such is the imbalance in the sector that the number of portals with monthly transactions of 100 million yuan ($15.65m) and above has increased to seven while the number of small-scale websites forced to close shop is more than 300.

The situation may be stabilizing gradually with the number of group buyers in 40 major cities staying around 20 million since May, but it's far from being positive because the Tuan800 forum alone has received 8,723 complaints against the commodities consumers bought and services they availed of since July. The number of complaints in August reached a record 1,316, up 7.3 percent year-on-year.

Of course, all websites boast about their honesty and integrity. But they have to take concrete measures to guarantee quality products and services.

The group-buying websites have to be really honest. For that, they have to create a channel which consumers can use to file their complaints in details and even share their experiences with others.

Those running the forums make great efforts to classify the complaints against unfriendly service providers and substandard goods. But they have to take steps so that people can share their personal group-buying experiences, too, which will help them get the right kinds of goods and better services.

The lack of logistics in group-buying websites was noticed during the consumers' peak season of Spring Festival earlier this year. Yet not much has been done to fix the loopholes and straighten things. For example, the huge discounts offered during Spring Festival raised the demands for many goods and resulted in short supply of many commodities.

Another problem that seems to be rampant is the so-called "no-charge tours" and "fee-less tours" provided by some group-buying websites. In fact, people who wanted to avail of such services didn't get the right response. Instead, they were led by their guides to countless stores one after another and coaxed into spending money to buy unnecessary goods.

Tickets to movies are another big attraction for group buyers. Yet people have to be on guard against "super-low" ticket prices to see if they have any hidden set of restrictions such as specific time and/or specific movies. In a word, there is still room for improvement. Many group-buying websites have started collecting fees from sellers as guarantee money against possible complaints. They are trying other means, too, such as allowing consumers to share their experiences to get proper feedback.

But fundamentally, sellers, group-buying websites and navigation portals have to base their trade on honesty and integrity and make greater joint efforts on this front. To help them serve consumers better, the government should strengthen monitoring and promulgate sound regulatory rules as soon as possible.

The author is founder of This article is based on excerpts from his interview with China Daily's He Bolin.

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