Consumer watchdog Case set to better shield online shoppers, deter unfair practices: Melvin Yong

About one in five complaints received by Case from January last year to June 2021 were related to online purchases. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Encouraging retailers to impose a cooling-off period for goods and services sold is one of the measures that the new president of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) Melvin Yong hopes to achieve.

For a start, he hopes that Case can work with hair, beauty and massage businesses to impose a five-day cooling-off period, which would allow consumers who regret their purchases to get a refund.

This will hopefully address complaints from consumers about being pressured to make purchases, such as package deals.

"We hope these initiatives will lessen the risk of consumers losing their hard-earned money through hefty prepayments," Mr Yong said in a post on Case's blog, Case in Point, on Thursday (Sept 30).

Eventually, Case will also call for a mandatory cooling-off period for certain big-ticket, prepaid items, he added.

He also charted out some other key areas in consumer protection that Case will enhance and focus on.

Mr Yong, who is also an MP for Radin Mas, took over the reins from Mr Lim Biow Chuan in June this year. His term will run for three years.

In his post, he noted that the purchasing habits of consumers have changed drastically in recent years, and Case must "evolve in tandem" to better protect consumers.

This includes online shoppers, given how about one in five complaints received by Case from January last year to June 2021 were related to online purchases, Mr Yong said.

E-commerce sales here are expected to grow to US$10 billion (S$13.6 billion) by the end of 2026, according to a recent report by Facebook and management consultancy Bain & Company.

But two-thirds of consumers here had encountered unfair practices by e-commerce sellers, such as fake limited time discounts and false deals, a study by the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) last year found.

To tackle this, Case will work with major online marketplaces here to establish a standardised dispute management framework for consumers, as different platforms currently have varying scopes and service levels in their dispute resolution process.

He said: "While we cannot completely eliminate disputes, we hope to help consumers resolve their disputes fast and equitably, so that we can build trust between consumers and online marketplaces in the long run."

Case will also set up an online forum where consumers can share honest and genuine reviews of products and services, and share feedback about unfair business practices.

The consumer watchdog has also made it a priority to do its part in tackling the worrying trend of rising personal debt, especially among younger consumers.

To address this, Case will call for new regulations that will require retailers to inform consumers of the risks of taking up instalment payment schemes, such as interest rates that they will have to bear.

More details on how these measures will be rolled out will be unveiled later.

Mr Yong said: "As we evolve Case to stay relevant to changing consumer trends, we will continue to work closely with our industry partners and the CCCS and look into new areas where we can better protect consumers' interests."

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