Case survey takes the shine off gold sales

Singapore Jewellers Association president Ho Nai Chuen says the way items are weighed is "not unfair".
Singapore Jewellers Association president Ho Nai Chuen says the way items are weighed is "not unfair".

Watchdog misunderstood 'usual trade practices', says trade body chief

Consumer confidence in the gold jewellery industry may have taken a hit following the release last week of findings that showed some jewellers engaged in "unfair" practices.

Some stores have reported a decline in sales of as much as 30 per cent since results of a Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) survey were made public.

Singapore Jewellers Association (SJA) president Ho Nai Chuen said: "Customers are hesitating before they buy because they think the industry will short-change them."

On Wednesday, Mr Ho, whose association represents more than 300 jewellery traders, held a press conference during which he said the consumer watchdog had misunderstood some usual trade practices. Mr Ho, who is managing director of On Cheong Jewellery, also sent a letter of clarification to Case yesterday.

Case flagged several "questionable" and "unfair" practices in the industry following a survey of 20 jewellers. Fifteen of them are SJA members which are now reporting lower sales.

None of the shops in the random check had volunteered to weigh gold items for customers. At least two refused the undercover shoppers' requests to do so.

Many shops that weighed items did so with the price tag still attached, which could add to the total weight.

On the bright side, all the gold samples taken from the shops tested pure, as advertised, Case said.

Mr Ho said he explained that all gold jewellery is weighed and tagged with the item's net weight before it goes on sale.

When a customer expresses interest in an item, it is not common practice for retailers to volunteer to weigh it.

If a customer wants the item weighed before purchase, the practice - according to SJA's code of ethics - is to weigh it with its tag on. The weight of a similar tag would be taken in front of the customer and deducted to get the item's net weight.

"(This practice) is certainly not an unfair practice under the purview of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act," Mr Ho said.

Once a purchase is made, the customer has the right to ask the retailer to weigh the item on the spot, and the latter is obliged to do so. The two shops that refused to weigh the jewellery, despite being asked to do so, are not SJA members.

In response to Mr Ho's letter, Case's executive director Seah Seng Choon said yesterday that its surveyors had bought the gold items and the "questionable practices" happened afterwards.

Ban Cheong Jewellers was named as one of those that did not voluntarily weigh the gold item with its tag removed, but its sales assistant did so after being asked. Its director Ching Kwang Meng said he hoped SJA's clarification would reassure customers. "I hope customers understand that we're not out to cheat them."

mellinjm@sph.com.sg