SINGAPORE: The Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) on Wednesday (Jan 16) issued a consumer advisory reminding shoppers to read the fine print when making purchases online, after complaints about e-commerce retailer Fashion Interactive.
The association had started receiving complaints about the company back in November 2015.
Consumers who bought items from myglamorous.sg, which is run by Fashion Interactive and sells footwear, reported being automatically enrolled in a VIP membership programme after making a purchase, without their knowledge.
They were also charged recurring monthly membership fees.
It turned out that the customers had overlooked the membership enrolment as details of the programme were on the website in fine print, said CASE.
Subsequently, CASE took the matter up with Fashion Interactive, which agreed to resolve all consumer disputes filed with CASE and to fully refund consumers. The refunds have been made.
CASE also requested that the company review its online purchasing processes and conditions and make its membership model more transparent to consumers.
"CASE’s position was that consumers must opt-in for the membership voluntarily and the recurring monthly charges should be clearly brought to their attention, instead of being written in fine print," it said.
However, the association continued to receive consumer complaints about the recurring monthly membership charges, with 38 cases filed between January 2017 and December last year.
"This suggests that consumers continue to be misled when purchasing from Fashion Interactive," it said.
AUTOMATIC ENROLMENT, MONTHLY BILLING
Under the "terms of service" as listed on the myglamorous.sg website, it is stated that purchasing an item will lead to automatic enrolment in the GLMRS VIP membership programme.
Members receive credit in their online account at the start of each month that can be redeemed towards the purchase of a GLMRS item in any future month.
"If you do not wish to receive a credit on an upcoming month, you will be required to select the ‘skip this month’ option during the last five days of the month through your online account," says the site.
"If you do not select the ‘skip this month’ option during the last five days of the month, or cancel your membership, your credit card will be billed S$59.95 every thirty-day period after the date of registration."
CASE advised those who have bought items from Fashion Interactive to review their credit card statements and to contact CASE if they encounter any difficulty in obtaining a refund from the business.
"Consumers should note that substantial discounts or benefits offered by businesses may contain hidden charges," CASE said.
"Hence, it is important to pay close attention to the terms and conditions of a contract before making a purchase."
Under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, businesses cannot use small print to conceal a material fact from the consumer in connection with the supply of goods or services.
CASE added that any material information about a purchase, such as recurring charges, should be provided up-front and prominently displayed on the webpage.
CUSTOMERS MUST FIRST OPT IN: RETAILER
In response to Channel NewsAsia's queries, Fashion Interactive said: "There is no auto-enrollment using fine prints when purchasing on our website.
"In order to purchase from the website, customers must first opt in to the below terms and conditions which are clearly stated black-and-white in large prints."
The retailer also said it received 28 complaints from CASE in close to four years, and that all those customers have been fully refunded.
That figure is in contrast to the 38 cases the consumer watchdog said were filed in two years.
"If these are correct then we have not received them from CASE and would like CASE to send them across so we can process them accordingly," said Fashion Interactive, adding that the number of complaints represents a ratio of 0.25 per cent.
"We believe this is quite satisfactory but again if CASE has any suggestion for us to improve upon this ratio we are happy to hear from them and implement whatever recommendations they think are necessary to put a clearer message across to our customers when they're going through the subscription flow," said the retailer.