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Many experience unfair practices shopping online: Survey

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While working at home in June, an Instagram advertisement for an adjustable-height desk caught Mr Al Wu's eye.

Convinced by the sleek photos and rave reviews, he placed an order on the website, Bikkuri Shop.

But the delivered product did not work as advertised, Mr Wu told The Straits Times. After more than two months and dozens of e-mails to the vendor, he has yet to receive the product exchange he was promised.

"They asked for cash on delivery, so there's not much I can do. I didn't have that level of caution," said the researcher, 44, who rarely shops online.

Such encounters with online sellers are not uncommon, a survey published by the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) yesterday showed.

It found that about two-thirds of consumers encountered unfair practices on online platforms over a three-month period.

False claims relating to discounts or benefits, limited-time deals and scarcity of goods or services were the top three complaints.

The survey of 650 people, conducted online in November and December last year by economic consultancy Frontier Economics, formed part of a market study on the e-commerce landscape in Singapore.

Misleading advertising practices highlighted in the survey have been addressed in the price transparency guidelines that will take effect from Nov 1, the CCCS noted in a 97-page report on the market study.

The guidelines will set out how the agency will interpret and enforce consumer protection laws going forward.

The guidelines will apply to all vendors that supply goods and services to consumers in Singapore, and observers noted the challenges in enforcing the law against overseas-based online sellers.

Mr Wu, for example, was told by the Consumers Association of Singapore that he had little recourse as the vendor in his transaction was not registered in Singapore.

The market study found that some e-commerce platforms had measures in place, such as pre-payment protection schemes, to protect shoppers from unscrupulous sellers.

A spokesman for Lazada said its consumer protection measures include a demerit point system for errant sellers that can result in a suspension.

The consumer survey suggested that more could be done to foster a fair trading environment, the CCCS said, adding that it would work with the industry to promote good practices and consumer education.