By Rick Hulse
It’s becoming ever more common for people to buy things online nowadays and, as a dedicated online shopper myself, I generally believe this to be a good thing.
Shopping for things online gives you access to a far broader range of products and pricing than you can feasibly expect to find in any shopping centre or superstore and, if you make your purchases via an intermediary online retailer like Amazon or Argos, you also have access to the reviews of previous buyers to give you an idea of the quality of the item you’re planning to buy and, to some extent, the quality of customer service offered by the vendor.
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However, if you buy online direct from a vendor you’re generally relying purely on their advertising to give you an idea of what you might expect from the product you’re purchasing, and that’s where you can get your fingers burnt – particularly if you’re purchasing a product, either deliberately or unintentionally, from China.
The Chinese economy has been undergoing revolutionary changes over recent years as they’ve begun to embrace capitalism with similar fervour to that of a pissed-up bloke grasping a rat-shit infested kebab at 2am on a Sunday morning. Sadly much of the produce coming out of China, while appearing cheaper than its competitors in more established markets, is all too often counterfeit and/or demonstrably sub-standard.
In the case of clothing, including motorcycle clothing, it’s often the case that the quality of the merchandise is acceptable, even better than expected for the price, but all too often the item you receive won’t be quite what you ordered or, even more commonly, two or three sizes too small, and your chances of a refund from the vendor are practically nil.
I know quite a few people who’ve bought motorcycle helmets or boots or jackets online, only to find the items to be sub-standard, the wrong colour or (most commonly) far too small. When they’ve contacted the vendor they’ve often been surprised to find it’s a company in China, and they then have to enter into the unwinnable game of trying for a refund.
Step one: The vendor will generally deny any fault on their part, but will offer a ‘goodwill’ refund of 30-40% if you return the item, at your own expense, to them in China. Those who are foolish enough to do this, at a postal cost that often outweighs the original purchase cost, are unlikely ever to see that partial refund.
Step two: The vendor will offer a 10% refund and you can keep the item. This ensures the vendor a tidy profit and the excuse to say you’ve accepted the item so it must be fit for purpose (and the chances of actually receiving the 10% refund are pretty slim either way).
Step three: They’ll ignore all further communication, knowing that UK consumer legislation cannot touch them, and that most people’ll simply give up and accept the loss.
When you buy products from within the UK or the EU, you have some protection afforded by the Consumer Rights Act (2015) and the Consumer Contracts Regulations (2013), but neither of these pieces of legislation carries any weight in China, and Chinese companies are only too well aware of that fact.
My girlfriend Mandy recently fell foul of one of these companies when her daughter ordered a £150 prom dress online and received a dress of a totally different colour. Despite the company’s website showing a London address, it transpired that it’s actually based in China, and isn’t even registered where it claims is its registered office.
After going through the rigmarole of threatening them with court action (empty threats because the UK courts can do nothing against a company in China), and ignoring its offers of partial refunds if the dress was returned to China (at an approximate cost of £65 postage) I advised Mandy to contact her bank and make a claim under the VISA purchase protection scheme, which guarantees protection for any purchase made using a card of any description, whether it be a credit card or a debit card. (Similar protection is built into the use of Mastercard and American Express card purchases).
Barclays advised her that she must send the item back to the vendor, then wait 14 days to see if a full refund was forthcoming. She packaged up the dress and sent it to the London address published on the company’s website. Of course it came back with a claim that they weren’t known at that address, though the same day she had an email from them, saying it must be returned to China. Of course she ignored their demand. Fifteen days later she contacted her bank again, and the £150 was back in her account within 24 hours. A day or two later we had a good laugh over a very angry email she received from the company saying that the money’d been taken out of its account without its permission.
Since then I’ve been able to advise two other friends who’d bought motorcycle gear online only to fall foul of Chinese companies; in both cases they got their money back via their credit or debit card company’s purchase protection system, which is called ‘Chargeback’, and the credit companies can retrieve the money from the vendor’s bank account without their agreement, and it covers you if the company you purchased from has gone bust, the goods were not as described or were defective, the goods were not received, or when you have been the victim of fraud and didn’t authorise the purchase. Most people seem to be unaware of this type of purchase protection, and many people lose out to unscrupulous companies because they are unaware that they can apply for Chargeback via their bank or card provider.
My advice is, avoid making any purchases of anything from China under any circumstances, and when buying online from anywhere always use a VISA, Mastercard or Amex debit or credit card.
Hopefully this article will help BSH readers to avoid being the helpless victims of dishonest traders.Enjoy more Back Street Heroes reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.