Many Hong Kong city-dwellers rely heavily on laundry cleaning services due either to their busy work schedules or limited home space for a washing machine. To meet market demand, the laundry industry has launched a variety of services in recent years, such as storage locker drop-off service, electronic payment systems to streamline the transaction, and even 24-hour operation. However, these new business modes have given rise to different consumer disputes and risks as illustrated in the following cases.
The Council reminds traders of their responsibilities to ensure the service quality as pledged to meet consumers’ expectation to retrieve their laundry in a clean and intact condition, whether they opt for traditional laundry shops or self-service laundromats. Laundry shops generally handle lost or damaged items in accordance with their established policies and terms, yet it is often unable to fully cover the consumer’s loss. Traders should consider from the customers’ perspective when handling disputes so as to facilitate the process and reach a consensus more easily. Laundry shops should also carry out regular checks and maintenance on their machinery to ensure smooth operation, as well as offer clearer instructions for users. Before using laundry services, especially when cleaning expensive clothing, consumers should examine the compensation terms of the laundry company, and retain the invoices to safeguard their rights.
Case 1: Garments Lost When Using Self-service Storage Locker; Compensation Dragged On for 4 Months
Last July, the complainant dropped off a recently purchased blouse and undershirt for cleaning with a laundry shop Company A, using their electronic locker drop-off and collection service. After payment on the spot, the complainant received Company A’s confirmation text message with invoice and enquiry hotline attached. However, having received no collection notification for the garments after 10 days, she enquired with Company A repeatedly but to no avail. Almost 1 month later, Company A eventually notified the complainant that the 2 garments had been lost. The complainant thus lodged a complaint with the Council, claiming that both garments were purchased recently from designer brands which she had worn for less than 5 times. She also presented receipts showing that the blouse and undershirt cost $2,253 and $1,354 respectively, requesting Company A to compensate the original price for the clothing as well as refund the laundry charge. After the Council’s negotiations, Company A verbally agreed to the compensation, yet delayed time and again as to when the compensation could be materialised. Not until November was the complainant notified to collect the compensation cheque, marking an end to a 4-month-long process.
Case 2: Elderly Customer Charged Twice Due to Failed Machine Operation; Refund Arrangements Not Elderly Friendly
While using the 24-hour self-service laundry service of Company B, the elderly complainant first completed the washing process, then placed his laundry into the dryer, tapped the card for payment and pressed the button as instructed. As the dryer did not start, the complainant tapped to pay once again and the dryer then started functioning normally on this second attempt. The complainant called Company B afterwards to reflect on this problem and requested the duplicate payment be refunded. After investigation, Company B agreed to refund and asked the complainant to download the relevant mobile app to submit the refund application form. However, as the complainant was unable to submit the application successfully using the app, Company B subsequently suggested doing a bank transfer, which was refused by the complainant on the grounds of personal data privacy. He counter-requested to receive the refund via cheque or cash, but was rejected by the staff, claiming that it did not comply with their policy. Opining that the refund procedure of Company B was inconvenient, the complainant sought help from the Council.
According to Company B’s reply, the dryer failed to operate normally the first time as the complainant did not follow the routine operation procedure after his first payment. The company also suggested several electronic payment tools and bank transfer to complete the refund, but were all rejected by the complainant. The Council reflected that senior citizens might not be familiar with electronic payment tools. After negotiation, Company B made an exceptional arrangement for a cash refund.
Case 3: Dispute Over Failed Attempt to Fix Shrunken Fur Collar of Leather Jacket After Dry Cleaning
Last May, the complainant handed over a grey leather jacket with fur collar and some winter garments to Company C for dry cleaning and used their free 6-month storage service but when she collected the clothing last December, she found the fur collar of the leather jacket had been severely shrunken. Despite Company C’s attempt to fix the leather jacket, the complainant opined that the condition had barely improved, thus refused to collect the jacket and requested compensation. Company C, having regard to the depreciation rate of the garment, only agreed to compensate $124 and offered to refund the balance of the complainant’s membership account. However, the complainant opined that the compensation offer did not sufficiently cover her loss. She was of the view that although the leather jacket had been purchased for several years, she wore and maintained it with care, and there had never been any problems when she sent the jacket to Company C for dry cleaning previously. Quoting the compensation limit of no more than 5 times the cleaning fee as stated on the invoice, she requested a minimum compensation of $800 as the cleaning fee of the jacket was $310. Subsequently, she sought help from the Council.
After the Council’s persistent negotiations, Company C maintained their stance, reiterating that there was nothing wrong with the dry cleaning process and the leather jacket was in a normal condition after cleaning. They also opined that the fur collar was not severely shrunken, and that they had enquired with the jacket brand’s company, who confirmed that the style was from many seasons ago. Company C further pointed out that the discounted dry cleaning charge was $248, and having regard to the price of the jacket and its depreciation rate, they would only compensate half of the dry cleaning charge ($124) and refund the credit balance of around $400 from the membership account. As the complainant did not wish to further pursue the matter, Company C’s proposal was accepted.
Concerned about the rapid development of the laundry industry in recent years, the Consumer Council worked with the Laundry Association of Hong Kong to establish “The Code of Practices of the Laundry Industry” ("The Code") in 2015. Since its launch, the number of complaints relating to laundry services has seen a progressive decline by year, reflecting that the Code has helped increase the service quality of the industry and reduce disputes. The Council urges the industry to improve their service quality to reduce consumer disputes. Laundry companies and consumers should pay heed to the following:
- Understand the risks before handing over expensive or valuable garments to laundry companies for cleaning or storage. Proactively request the trader for special handling beforehand. Before dropping off the laundry, take photos of the clothing to be used as evidence in case of dispute;
- Take note of the storage charge and period when using clothing storage services. Remember to collect the clothing before the end of the storage period to prevent the traders from handling overdue items;
- When using self-service storage locker drop-off services, be mindful of the risks of loss or mishandling;
- Retain invoices and receipts, and examine the terms to fully understand the trader’s compensation and refund arrangements in case of damage or loss;
- Traders should provide clear and simple user instructions for the self-service machines, such as tutorial videos illustrating the steps, to allow consumers of different ages to easily understand. Set up an enquiry hotline or offer other means to contact the staff for assistance;
- As self-service laundromats may not have on-site staff, consumers should learn about the operation procedure and instructions before using the service. In case of any issues, retain the receipts and contact the trader as soon as possible;
- When using designated mobile apps or electronic payment tools to complete transactions, consumers should ensure that they are familiar with the operation and payment method. Contact the trader for help in case of any queries.
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