SINGAPORE - Online shoppers are being warned about reading the fine print after several complaints about an online shop's membership programme.
The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) said that it started receiving complaints from customers of Fashion Interactive as early as November 2015.
The firm runs an e-commerce site called myglamorous.sg and sells footwear, Case said in a statement on Wednesday (Jan 16).
Consumers were unaware of being automatically enrolled in a membership programme after making a purchase and were charged recurring monthly membership fees.
They had overlooked the membership enrolment as details of this were in fine print on the website, Case said.
The association told Fashion Interactive to review its online purchasing processes and to make its membership model more transparent to consumers. It also informed the firm of its obligations under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.
Case said: "Consumers must opt in for the membership voluntarily and the recurring monthly charges should be clearly brought to their attention, instead of being written in fine print."
The firm resolved all consumer disputes filed with Case at the time and also promised to fully refund consumers.
But Case continued to receive 38 complaints about recurring membership charges between January 2017 and December last year.
"This suggests that consumers continue to be misled when purchasing from Fashion Interactive," Case said.
Of those consumers, 23 consumers sought Case’s assistance to represent them in negotiation with the company. A majority of the cases have been resolved.
In response to The Straits Times' queries, the firm said that it has received a total of 28 complaints from Case in close to four years, and customers have all been fully refunded.
The firm said this represents less than 0.25 per cent of its customers.
It added that the last time Case met it to improve "customer communication with regard to subscription flow" was back in April 2016.
"So we believe they were satisfied by the process we have put in place since, but if Case has a better recommendation, we are happy to receive it and implement it," the firm said in its e-mail reply.
The firm also denied using fine print to automatically enrol customers in its membership programme, stating that customers have to opt in to terms and conditions "clearly stated in black and white in large print" before they can purchase anything.
The firm's website advertises that each pair of shoes cost $59.95, as opposed to what it claims are normal retail prices of $119 to $300.
Only in a section labelled "FAQ & HELP", accessible by scrolling to the bottom of the site, is it stated that a monthly payment of $59.95 would be deducted automatically at the start of the month.
Customers who unwittingly sign up for the membership programme have to opt out of getting charged by logging into their account and selecting "Skip This Month", according to the site.
Information on the firm's website claims that it is incorporated in Gibraltar. A British territory off the coast of Spain, Gibraltar is widely known as a tax haven.
An April 2017 Guardian report stated that more than 60,000 companies were registered in the territory, or about two for every resident.
However, a check on the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority's online business filing portal indicates that Fashion Interactive also has an address here, listed as 09-01 China Square Central, 18 Cross Street.
The last annual return was filed on Wednesday for the financial year ending June 30, 2018. The firm's status indicates that it is still in existence and operating.
In its statement, Case advised consumers who had previously purchased goods from Fashion Interactive to review their credit card statements and contact the association if they encounter any difficulty in obtaining a refund.
"Consumers should note that substantial discounts or benefits offered by businesses may contain hidden charges. Hence, it is important to pay close attention to the terms and conditions of a contract before making a purchase," Case said.
The watchdog said it is closely monitoring the complaints received against the company and at the appropriate juncture, it will take the necessary actions provided for under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act to safeguard consumer interest.