New Case chief Loy York Jiun to focus on errant online retailers

It received 636 e-commerce-related gripes in 2016, up from 523 in 2015 and 485 in 2014

Mr Loy (above) is Case's new executive director, having taken over from Mr Seah Seng Choon (below), on Jan 1.
Mr Loy (above) is Case's new executive director, having taken over from Mr Seah Seng Choon, on Jan 1.
Mr Loy (above) is Case's new executive director, having taken over from Mr Seah Seng Choon (below), on Jan 1.
Mr Loy is Case's new executive director, having taken over from Mr Seah Seng Choon (above), on Jan 1.

Singapore's consumer watchdog is putting its focus on errant online retailers as the number of complaints against e-commerce merchants climbs.

Last year, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 636 e-commerce-related complaints, up from 523 in 2015 and 485 in 2014.

Case wants to work with the authorities to come up with industry standards for such transactions and help consumers seek recourse if they receive defective products, or do not receive a product at all.

Case's new executive director Loy York Jiun, in an interview with The Straits Times last week, listed this as one of his top priorities now that he has taken over the reins from Mr Seah Seng Choon, 64.

The 43-year-old Mr Loy, who took up his new role on Jan 1, noted that the difficulty in resolving such e-commerce disputes is that some merchants may be based overseas.

"It may be hard to contact them and get a response because they are not bound by our laws, so they may feel we can't do anything to them," he said.

One way to get around the issue is to work with trading platforms that have a presence in Singapore to come up with a refund policy, he said.

For example, an existing platform gives customers a specified number of days to raise any issues about their transaction. Only after that does it release payment to merchants.

Case is also looking to put out more timely advice for consumers by using a variety of platforms.

For example, during the school holidays, Case plans to offer consumers advice on what to look out for before purchasing a holiday package.

While Case will continue to hold educational seminars for consumers, Mr Loy admitted that this "may not be the most efficient" way to reach out to consumers.

"Nowadays, we get most of our information on our mobile phones, so I think we have to go with the times... (and) use mass media and social media to reach out to consumers," he said.

As for prepayments, Mr Loy said Case would continue to push for the law to be amended to make it unlawful for firms to collect prepayments without offering consumers some protection in return - despite concerns that such legislation would be onerous on businesses and would pass on costs to consumers.

This follows the high-profile closure of gym chain California Fitness last year which left customers stranded with unused packages that amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.

While focusing on online retailers, prepayments and educating consumers, Mr Loy added that Case would continue to resolve as many disputes as possible.

Every year, Case handles more than a thousand disputes and about 70 per cent are settled amicably while the rest involve the consumer taking action against the retailer by going to the Small Claims Tribunal or civil courts.

Mr Loy, who previously held various senior appointments within the National Trades Union Congress, saw similarities between his new role of helping consumers negotiate with retailers and his past experience championing the rights of workers.

"At the end of the day, it's about helping the common man who's at a disadvantage because of an imbalance of power or imbalance of information," he said.

"It's about helping them level up, so they can play in a level playing field."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Case to focus on errant online retailers: New chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe