Since the launch of the Hong Kong Government’s consumption voucher scheme (“the scheme”), consumption vouchers have been disbursed to eligible registrants in 2 instalments from early August. The scheme allowed registrants to choose a preferred option amongst 4 Stored Value Facilities (SVFs) to receive and use their consumption vouchers. Not only does this arrangement encourage happy spending to boost the economy, it also helps boost the adoption of electronic payment systems. However, as of early October, the Consumer Council has received over 300 complaint cases related to consumption vouchers predominantly about the SVFs which accounted for 40% of all complaints, while dining services and electrical appliances recorded the second and third most complaints. Issues included minimum spend imposed by traders; duplicated deduction of consumption voucher stored value; as well as inconsistent refund arrangements.
The Council opines that while there are various benefits using SVFs, consumers’ confidence would be easily discounted by the frequent errors of the processing systems, such as duplicate or erroneous transactions, or if the trader resorts to unreasonable terms and conditions. The Council consolidated some common complaints related to consumption vouchers and urges traders and SVF operators to improve their services by drawing on past experience, so as to foster a more pleasant shopping environment for citizens upon the second disbursement of the scheme, thereby achieving the effect of reinvigorating the economy.
Case 1: Blame-shifting Between Restaurant and SVF Operator on Duplicated Deduction of Spending Value
The complainant had lunch at Restaurant A with her family on 1 August and paid with consumption voucher. According to the complainant, the electronic payment app showed that $691 had been deducted. However, the staff claimed that the restaurant had not received the payment as a receipt was not printed, explaining that the network might be unstable on the first day of the consumption voucher disbursement. As requested by the staff, the complainant made another payment with the electronic payment app. Upon checking the transaction record on the electronic payment app afterwards, the complainant however found that Restaurant A had processed 2 transactions on that day. After repeated enquiries with the SVF operator and Restaurant A, the SVF operator stated that Restaurant A did not provide a clear reply, while Restaurant A claimed that the SVF operator had not got in touch with them. As the complainant was dissatisfied with the blame-shifting between the two parties, she filed a complaint with the Consumer Council. After conciliation, the duplicate charge of $691 was refunded to the complainant’s consumption voucher account on 23 August.
Case 2: Inconsistent Refund Methods Causing Customer Dissatisfaction
Company B advertised that consumption vouchers could be combined for purchases. Following the instructions on Company B’s website, the complainant first purchased 140,000 membership points using $700 from his consumption voucher account. He then purchased a smart TV from Company B’s website by firstly entering 140,000 membership points on the payment page as per the instruction, then settling the balance of $1,943 using his family member’s consumption voucher from another SVF platform. However, upon phone enquiry on the scheduled delivery date, the complainant was notified that the TV was out of stock and the replenishment date was unknown. In view of this, the complainant requested a refund but later found out that Company B only refunded $1,943 to his family member’s SVF platform, whereas the $700 he spent on purchasing the membership points could only be refunded in the form of membership points but not in cash. Discontent with the disparity in refund arrangement though digital consumption vouchers were used in both instances, the complainant lodged a complaint with the Council. Soon after, the complainant notified the Council that $700 had been refunded to his SVF platform and follow-up action was no longer required.
The Council had enquired with the 4 SVF operators regarding the refund arrangements for transactions using consumption vouchers. If both parties agreed with the refund, 3 operators (AlipayHK, Tap & Go, and WeChat Pay HK) expressed that the stored value would be directly refunded into the consumption voucher account of the original SVF, while Octopus explained that the refund arrangement would be negotiated and decided between the trader and consumer owing to the difference in its operation mode.
Case 3: Chinese Restaurant Set $100 Minimum Spend for Using Consumption Vouchers
After enjoying a morning “yum cha” discount session at Chinese Restaurant C in early August, the complainant wished to settle the bill of $42 with her consumption voucher but was rejected on the spot by the staff, who stressed that there was a minimum spend of $100 for using consumption vouchers. The manager of Chinese Restaurant C explained that notices were displayed at the cashier stating that a minimum spend of $100 applied for all types of e-payment tools. Thus, the complainant unwillingly paid the bill by cash. Afterwards, the complainant filed a complaint with the Consumer Council, querying the appropriateness of setting a minimum spend for using consumption vouchers as she had never heard of such practice and opined that this was against the purpose of encouraging consumption and promoting electronic payments. The Council issued a letter to Chinese Restaurant C to relay the complainant’s dissatisfaction and reminded the restaurant to improve the situation. At the same time, the Council also referred the case to the relevant SVF operator and received a reply that no similar situations had occurred after investigation. In response to the Council’s expressed concern on the issue, the 4 SVF operators confirmed that traders should not set minimum spend and once a violation is confirmed, they might cease partnership with the related traders.
Case 4: Traders’ Discount Coupons Expired After a Fixed Time Limit
The complainant purchased household goods from Company D using electronic consumption vouchers and wanted to use a $15 discount coupon for Company D provided by the SVF operator at the same time. However, the QR code of the discount coupon had a 10-minute time limit and would expire beyond that time. Despite trying repeatedly, the staff could not scan the QR code and as a result the complainant was unable to enjoy the discount. The complainant was dissatisfied with the short time limit provided by the trader and opined that the discount would become invalid due to oversight by the consumer or trader, or if the queue time at the cashier was too long. The Council contacted Company D and the related SVF operator respectively. Company D explained that it might have been due to system error on the day and offered 200 membership points to the complainant as compensation. As for the SVF operator, it surmised that the complainant’s phone screen might be too dim or too reflective for a successful scan and reminded consumers to adjust the brightness of their phone screens. The SVF operator re-issued a $15 electronic cash coupon to the complainant who was satisfied with the reply.
One of the main purposes of the consumption voucher scheme is to encourage citizens to keep up with the digital trend through the wider use of electronic payment tools in their consumptions. The Council has the following recommendations for traders and consumers in supporting the scheme:
- Traders should ensure that their transaction system is stable and compatible with the operation technology of the SVF platforms. Resources should be allocated for regular checks and system updates;
- Traders and SVF operators should draw experience from the first round of consumption vouchers and strengthen their customer service, including increasing manpower to handle enquiries, and setting up a service hotline to assist individuals unfamiliar with electronic payment systems;
- In case of transactional disputes, SVF operators and traders should proactively assist consumers. Once verified, a refund should be arranged immediately;
- Consumers should check their transaction records regularly and retain all shopping receipts to facilitate negotiation if disputes arise;
- Senior citizens who are unfamiliar with electronic payments should first make detailed enquiries or seek help from friends and relatives if they encounter any difficulties in registration or redemption of traders’ offers;
- Various traders have launched a wide variety of offers in relation to the consumption vouchers. Consumer should scrutinise the details of the offers carefully, such as whether the offers are only applicable to designated traders, reward quotas, minimum spend for a single transaction, redemption period and validity period, refund methods, etc.;
- When using consumption vouchers, consumers should spend sensibly and pay extra heed to prepayment consumption or high-value transactions;
- Consumers can refer to the website of the consumption voucher scheme in case of any questions: https://www.consumptionvoucher.gov.hk/tc/index.html
Consumer Council reserves all its right (including copyright) in respect of CHOICE magazine and Online CHOICE.