Sim Lim Square seeks help to tackle 'black sheep'

Mall wants the authorities to step up action against recalcitrant retailers

In a bid to save its reputation, Sim Lim Square, a go-to place for electronic gadgets also known for the dubious sales tactics of some of its shops, has issued an unusual "appeal for urgent help".

In particular, its management has appealed to the authorities to "take a tough stand against the recalcitrant retailers", saying it has been "disappointed with the apparent lack of measures which the authorities are able to take against these incorrigible retailers".

The appeal issued yesterday comes after the mall at Rochor Canal was criticised in recent weeks after a spate of media reports about cheating and overcharging involving shops there.

This included a case involving a retailer which tried to give a customer more than $1,000 in coins after it was ordered by the Small Claims Tribunal to give a refund.

In a statement yesterday, the retail complex's management said errant shops have not been deterred despite "countless police reports" as well as complaints to others like the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

"Law enforcement officers can be sighted in Sim Lim Square almost every day. However, the errant retailers are completely undeterred as the authorities appear to lack 'teeth' to take them to task," it added.

It said it had tried its "utmost" to save its name. For example, it recognises good retailers and has worked with Case to put up posters to warn people of errant ones.

The moves have paid off somewhat: The number of complaints has gone down, with Case receiving fewer complaints involving Sim Lim Square.

The number fell from 104 complaints in 2012 to 83 last year. There were 78 cases from January to October this year, mainly about misrepresentation, defective goods and sales tactics.

But Sim Lim said the problem remained common. "Business is still as usual for the 'black sheep' in Sim Lim Square and the use of scams and other dishonest practices are still common," it said.

"Instances of unethical business practices, such as cheating, over-charging and taunting customers are almost a daily sight, affecting the shoppers, especially tourists," it added.

When contacted, a spokesman for Sim Lim told The Straits Times that complaints are mainly against six to seven mobile shops in the mall - about 2 per cent of its 480 shops. Most other stores run an "honest business".

But there is nothing much that the management can do, he said. "As Sim Lim Square is a strata title building, we are not the landlord; we are only the managing agent, so we are not able to kick the tenants out."

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Case, agreed that the "questionable practices" of a few retailers have tarnished the mall's reputation. He also supported the mall's call for the authorities to take action.

"We stand by the management and will support their appeal for the authorities to look into this issue," he said.

In July, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) filed an injunction application in court against electronics wholesale company Cyber Maestro in Sim Lim Square, after many complaints against it for things like over-charging.

While the store can continue operations, should the company continue to engage in unfair practices, the STB can report it for "contempt of court".

In a media advisory yesterday, the STB said it takes a "serious view of errant retailers who besmirch the reputation of Singapore as a premier tourist destination". It said it encourages consumers to report them.

Mr Michael Tan, director of Convergent Systems which distributes products to shops in Sim Lim Square, said: "The problem comes from an isolated segment in the mall. Its IT sector has a very good reputation. People from all over the world come here to buy stuff. Computer enthusiasts treat Sim Lim Square like a pilgrimage, a mecca."

cherylw@sph.com.sg