Saturday, 22 November 2014

Errant Retailers and Rogue Traders

Has the crackdown on rogue traders begun?
The heat has been turned up on the Sim Lim Square shop formerly known as Mobile Air after the police raided it on Sunday

The shop and its owner, Mr Jover Chew, had become notorious for unfair trade practices, including coercing mobile phone customers to buy in-house warranties at inflated prices.

Mr Chew had apparently sold his business, which reopened last Friday supposedly under the name HJ Mobile, under new management.

But that did not stop police officers from spending several hours there going through documents before carting away four large boxes.

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CASE hopes to work with MTI to curb rogue retailers: Lim Biow Chuan

Putting up warning banners to alert shoppers, and engaging lawyers to draw up agreements that will allow landlords to terminate contracts early if retail tenants are found to be involved in unethical behaviour - these are some ideas that have been proposed since errant retailers at Sim Lim Square attracted a wave of bad press.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck on Monday (Nov 17) met with the Management Council of Sim Lim Square urging them to implement "some preventive measures" against rogue retailers.

Channel NewsAsia understands that some measures being looked at include warning shoppers against these recalcitrant retailers and informing shop owners if there have been complaints against them.

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CASE makes move on 2 errant retailers at People's Park Complex

The Consumers Association of Singapore says it's received a lot more complaints about shady retailers at People’s Park Complex than those found in Sim Lim Square.

Today, the industry watchdog started to take action against two errant shops at the mall located in Chinatown, inviting both to sign a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) to stop carrying out unfair practices, with a deadline of seven days to comply.

Both Tele Infinity and Mobile Alliance had refused to pledge against bad business habits during their meeting with CASE, who are considering taking out an injunction against them should they refuse to sign.

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Two People’s Park Complex shops asked to sign compliance agreement

The Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) has asked two retailers at People’s Park Complex — Tele Infinity and Mobile Alliance — to sign a voluntary compliance agreement (VCA), a contract that binds errant companies to agree to stop unfair practices, within seven days, starting today.

Under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), unfair practices include making a false claim and taking advantage of a consumer by exerting undue pressure on the consumer to enter into a transaction.

In a press release issued yesterday, CASE said it had previously met the two retailers and warned them to cease their unfair practices, but they had refused to do so. “If the companies refuse to sign the VCA within the time stipulated, we will consider commencing injunction action against them,” it said.

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Other malls with rogue retailers
Tele Infinity is among the People’s Park Complex retailers blacklisted by Consumers Association of Singapore (Case)

The recent antics of rogue retailers in Sim Lim Square have cast the spotlight on other malls such as People's Park Complex in Chinatown and Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road, which are also no strangers to complaints.

People's Park Complex may not have racked up as many reports of rip-offs as Sim Lim, but it has more than its fair share of cases involving mobile phone shops preying on customers.

A sales executive at a tourism agency there said he sees disputes between phone retailers and upset customers almost weekly, sometimes every two or three days.

Other malls with rogue retailers
M'sian diving champ paid more than $4k for two iPhones from Sim Lim Square shop
Sim Lim Square retailers speak up against bad reputation
Sim Lim Square's bad reputation goes beyond Singapore
Video shows Vietnamese man kneeling and begging in Sim Lim shop

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People's Park Complex gets more consumer complaints than Sim Lim Square
Sim Lim Square may be in the news for some of its vendors' rogue sales tactics lately

But it is People's Park Complex in Chinatown which has the most number of consumer complaints among shopping centres in Singapore.

And these also involve mobile phone retailers. Out of the 244 cases against the mobile phone industry that the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has handled so far this year , about 40 per cent, or 96 cases, involved shops at People' Park Complex.

In comparison, Sim Lim Square accounted for 49 cases, or about 20 per cent of the complaints.

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Shops at People's Park Complex get most complaints

All the attention recently has been on Sim Lim Square and the rogue sales tactics of some of its vendors.

But the mall in Singapore with the most consumer complaints is actually People's Park Complex in Chinatown, and the complaints also involve mobile phone retailers.

Of the 244 cases against the mobile phone retail industry which the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) handled from January to last month, about 40 per cent, or 96 cases, involved shops at People's Park Complex.

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Police should be alerted to take action on rogue retailers

Often, consumers stop pursuing the matter after they have taken it to the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT) as further pursuit would involve the engagement of a lawyer to settle the dispute in court and this would mean costs and time incurred.

Perhaps the Ministry of Law should review the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) to ensure that if CASE or the SCT has received feedback from consumers, the police would be alerted and an investigation would be carried out to stop these rogue contractors or retailers from engaging in such practices.

This way, consumers would really be protected under the CPFTA.

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Tighten business registration process to weed out rogue companies

Although the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) has decided to start injunction proceedings to deal with the rogue and unscrupulous retailers at Sim Lim Square and People’s Park Complex, such legal means may not act as a deterrent as they may not be sturdy or effective enough.

These black-listed retailers have already simply ignored and refused to sign the Voluntary Compliance Agreement which stipulates binding terms and conditions. Would this make their obligation to comply with the injunction order even harder?

In order to eradicate the fundamental issue of rogue and unscrupulous contractors, retailers and vendors, governing bodies such as the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) could consider implementing more stringent measures to tighten the registration process and procedures of companies and businesses.

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Sim Lim vigilantism not solution, but can Govt step in earlier?
A T-shirt with an expletive was found outside the offending shop, Mobile Air, at Sim Lim Square. Today File Photo

Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S Iswaran said the police have begun looking into reports on the case as well as a related report on harassment.

I guess that people were upset about the humiliation Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai was subjected to, so some resorted to harassment and online vigilantism against retailer Jover Chew.

Although I agree with Mr Iswaran that individuals should not take matters into their own hands, as restraint must be exercised, I wonder why the authorities took that long to step in.

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Laws need to be tougher on errant retailer
Chairman of the management Raymond Chua and the mall's managing agent Chan Kok Hong appealing for the authorities to take a stronger stand against errant retailers

Laws need to be tougher on errant retailers. So do mall management and landlords. I have never seen a group of people so happy to play the victims.

The management council of Sim Lim Square called a press conference yesterday to address the recent spotlight on rogue traders there, which they said has been bad for business.

It's a cry for help, they said. They are at their wits' end and only government intervention - by means of tighter legislation - can turn things around.


When authorities tarry, netizens harry 
Inline image 1Mr Jover Chew, the boss of Mobile Air, declined to comment on the incident as he said he was not present during the incident. He was in the spotlight for refunding his customers $1,000 in coins

Netizens felt the authorities were not doing enough about rogue traders at Sim Lim Square and took their own form of citizen justice on Mr Chew, who has become the face of the "Sim Lim saga".

A fortnight ago, travel company Lonely Planet named us the top country to visit in 2015, but merchants like Mr Chew have sullied our international reputation in a number of incidents involving tourists.

The latest, which drew the most outrage, was when Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai tearfully knelt down and begged staff at Mobile Air for a $950 refund after he was allegedly "tricked" into signing a contract which required him to pay another $1,500 for an in-house warranty for the phone.

Tourist kneels and begs tearfully for refund in Sim Lim shop
Sim Lim Square management seeks help in cracking down on errant retailers
High Court orders Sim Lim Square shop to stop unfair practices
Sim Lim Square shop owner can't explain why he paid in coins

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Police conduct raid at Mobile Air in Sim Lim Square, documents seized
Plainclothes police investigators in Sim Lim Square retailer Mobile Air. -- PHOTO: SHIN MIN

Police raided the errant Sim Lim Square retailer, Mobile Air, on Sunday and seized documents and products from the shop.

According to Shin Min Daily News, eight plainclothes officers were at the shop for more than two hours. They left with four large boxes of documents and products. They also took with them three computer monitors, said the report.

The mobile phone shop has been under fire for the last few weeks over its unethical sales tactics. It re-opened for business on Friday, but apparently under a new owner

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Errant retailers' tactics in Sim Lim Square
A Stomper sent in video footage showing the Vietnamese tourist kneeling down and begging for his refund at the Sim Lim Square shop making headlines recently, Mobile Air

The tourist, who earns $200 a month as a factory worker in Vietnam, was asked to pay an additional $1,500 for a warranty package on top of a payment of $950 which he had already made for an iPhone 6.

He had intended to purchase the mobile phone for his girlfriend as her birthday present.

In the video, a man, presumably the shopkeeper, is heard asking the tourist how he is "going to settle (his) money".

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Paying & Being Paid in Coins
Miss Zhou said the staff threw the bag of coins on the floor and told her to count them on the floor

She went to the mobile phone shop in Sim Lim Square to get a refund. After all, the Small Claims Tribunal had ruled in her favour. The shop gave her the money.

The only problem was that all $1,010 of it was in coins. The consumer, who wanted to be known only as Miss Zhou, said the shop's action angered and shocked her.

She also claimed that the shop employees verbally abused and taunted her after forcing her to count the money on the floor. Some even took pictures and videos of her with the coins. She said her ordeal on Tuesday afternoon lasted about three hours.

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