Workers sort parcels at a delivery company in Fuyang, Anhui province. The industry and commerce regulator said customers can return opened goods bought online within seven days.[Photo by Wang Biao/ China Daily]
The State Administration for Industry and Commerce released an enhanced consumer protection regulation on March 3 governing e-commerce purchases.
Under the new regulation, customers can return the opened goods they bought online within seven days and get full refunds, without providing any reason for the return.
The rule is slated to come into effect on March 15. Online retailers who refuse or delay to process the returns could be imposed fines as high as 500,000 yuan ($79,650), according to the administration.
The current law, which was put into effect on March 15 last year, requires that goods bought online be returned within seven days without excuses, but does not give details on whether the opened items can be returned.
Despite the regulation, most online retailers have set up their own return schemes for consumers unhappy with their products, stating that returned items should have their packaging intact and remain in the original condition.
Since last year, the China Consumers’ Association, a consumer protection authority, has received an increasing number of online purchase complaints from buyers, mostly related to the difficulties in returning goods, the association said.
“The new regulation will be benefit consumers. Some consumers have become wary of e-commerce retailers after they discovered counterfeit products online. The government should regulate online business behavior and protect consumer rights,” said Wang Xiaoxing, an analyst with Internet consultancy Analysys International.
“Returning the items is a reasonable demand. Online retailers have to obey the related regulations. The return policies on e-commerce websites would be invalid if the disclaimers don’t conform to the law,” he said.
Wang said consumers might return the items after opening them if the real conditions are not identical to the online descriptions. Merchants can’t promote products falsely, and the new law helps improve the standards of displaying and describing items online.
Many e-commerce websites have varied standards of return policies. Most online merchants, such as online organic shop tootoo.cn, require that the returned items should have undamaged packaging and be in the same condition as when they were sold.
Amazon.com Inc said that goods can be returned within seven days or 30 days in most cases, depending on the category of items, and the goods should stay in the original condition.
China’s largest online shopping portal JD.com Inc said the new regulation will further guarantee consumers’ rights, and JD will strictly comply with the law. Currently, home appliances qualify for a 30-day return policy and a 180-day return policy for items with quality issues, JD said.
Some online retailers on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Taobao platform said they are worried that the online business will become more difficult after the new regulation.
“Unused items with intact packaging can be returned within seven days, and consumers should take care of the returning shipping fees,” said an online merchant who sells brand name cosmetics on Taobao.
“If consumers are able to return opened items just because they don’t like them, merchants won’t be able to afford the costs,” the seller said.
Meng Jing contributed to this story.