System error prompted me to pay for my burger three times

Recently, I was at the Golden Mile Food Centre and I tried to make a QR code payment using the DBS PayLah app.

When I scanned the QR code at a stall, the app showed me the "sending payment" page for about 30 seconds before an error message popped up.

The cashier told me that he did not get any transaction notification on his payment device.

I decided to try again and this happened two more times.

On my third try, I switched off my Wi-Fi and used the 4G network on my phone, to no avail.

After that, I gave up and paid in cash for my burger.

About a minute later, I received an SMS from DBS PayLah, which said I had completed a payment of $7.40 to the stall.

I was shocked and when I checked my PayLah account, the transaction history showed that I had actually made three payments to the stall.

When I called DBS to clarify the problem, the help desk personnel told me that I had indeed made three payments to the stall and that I should settle it with the cashier.

I asked her to speak to the cashier directly. I understood that she confirmed the three transaction notifications with the cashier.

However, he said he was not authorised to give me a refund as he had to check with his boss.

When I checked with the DBS personnel again, she stressed that the onus was on the merchant to refund the customer.

In this case, clearly, the DBS PayLah system malfunctioned. Why was the onus on me, a consumer, to chase the merchant for a refund? Is this the penalty I have to pay for adopting e-payments?

If I had paid in cash, we could have settled the issue on the spot. However, because I had used e-payment, bank records needed to be checked and after 12 hours, I was still waiting for the merchant to call me back.

As the Government pushes for the wider adoption of e-payments at hawker centres, some questions still need to be addressed.

First, what happens when there is an e-payment dispute arising from system malfunctions?

Is the payment agent responsible for resolving the issue?

Second, errors could occur during peak hours. Do busy hawkers have the time to call their payment agent to resolve the issue?

Third, if e-payment becomes the dominant mode of payment at hawker centres, then service providers need to ensure their infrastructure planning works.

In the past, it might have taken a power outage to shut down a hawker centre.

With e-payments, all it takes is a Wi-Fi failure to shut a hawker centre down.

Foo Tuan Tong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2018, with the headline 'System error prompted me to pay for my burger three times'. Print Edition | Subscribe