Amid the volatile fifth wave of the pandemic, COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits have become an important anti-epidemic tool when self-testing has become a norm for most people before they depart for work every day. While RAT kits are in high demand, a great variety of RAT kits of different brands and origins have become available on the market both offline and online, from major retail chains to roadside stalls, and from major and boutique online stores to various social platforms. As at 11 April 2022, the Consumer Council has received 240 complaints involving online purchases of RAT kits, many of which were related to the failure of official websites or online stores to deliver the goods as promised yet denied a refund, while the customer service also failed to respond in a timely manner.
The Council is highly concerned about the late/non-delivery complaint cases where consumers were unable to obtain the RAT kits on time. As the test kits are an important epidemic prevention tool, delayed delivery of the kits and the traders’ subsequent refusal to offer a refund would seriously impact on the consumer rights and anti-epidemic safeguard of the public. The Council urges traders and online stores to honour their commitments when selling products, ensure that their product claims are true, and ensure punctual delivery. In the event of any delay, they need to notify consumers swiftly and provide quality customer services through prompt liaison or even a refund to consumers in an effort to fight the pandemic together.
Case 1: Delivery for Official Website Order Delayed by Nearly 1 Month
Believing that it was more reliable and assuring to order through an official website, the complainant ordered 10 test kits from the official website of Company A in early February and paid a total of $1,200 including the delivery costs. However, he still could not receive the delivery notification after waiting for almost 10 days, during which he repeatedly sent enquiries through the mobile application but could not receive any reply. He also called the customer service hotline of Company A but was only informed that his case would be passed to other colleagues for follow-up. The complainant waited for nearly 2 more weeks, i.e. close to a month after payment, but still could not receive any response. Dissatisfied with Company A's failure to provide an actual delivery date yet refusing to give a refund, the complainant sought help from the Council. Thereafter, he received a reply from Company A that relevant arrangements would be made and the case was thus resolved.
Case 2: Online Order Delayed While Same RAT Kit Was Put on Sale at Discounted Price
The complainant, a long-term customer of Company B's beauty and skincare products, purchased 4 boxes of RAT kits from Company B’s official website in late February at a total price of $140. Each box contained 1 RAT kit approved by the HKSAR Government. Although the order confirmation stated that the products would be delivered in 5 to 7 working days, the complainant still could not receive any delivery notification by mid-March. Yet on that day, she found that Company B had launched a new offer on its website with the same brand of RAT kit being put on sale at a discounted bundle price of $100 for 4 boxes, cheaper than the price when she placed the order. It even claimed to be the last 2,000 boxes in stock and customers could choose to pick up at any branch. Deeply dissatisfied with Company B for launching a new promotion while the existing online orders had not been properly handled, the complainant lodged a complaint through Company B's hotline. The staff of Company B only replied that they were about to ship the orders but were unable to confirm the exact date of delivery, and also denied a refund. The complainant thus lodged a complaint with the Council.
The Council contacted Company B and received a reply that delivery was delayed due to the reduced service of the courier company as a result of the pandemic. Although the test kits were eventually delivered to the complainant, it was over 1.5 months after she had placed the order.
Case 3: Product Advertised by Online Store as “Official Designated RAT Brand by Singapore Government” but Not Found on Official List
The Complainant found a RAT product advertised as an “official designated RAT brand by the Singapore Government” on Online Shop C, and ordered 4 boxes at a price of $80 each in mid-February. However, she later checked the Singapore Government’s official website but could not find any relevant information. She then enquired with Online Shop C and was provided with a document stating that the test kit was approved for sale in Singapore. The complainant opined that this was not equivalent to an “official designated RAT brand by the Singapore Government”, and that the test kit was neither on the list of the Singapore Health Sciences Authority, hence the claims were misleading. Although the goods had been received, she did not use the products and requested further explanation from Online Shop C through the Council.
The Council contacted Online Shop C and received only an automated email response stating that all customer service communication would be made via the social media page for the time being. The Council called the hotline of Online Shop C but it was unanswered and its voicemail was also full. The Council eventually referred the case to the Customs and Excise Department for follow-up, and Online Shop C later replied that the supplier would arrange the return of goods and the refund for the customer.
Traders Urged to Proactively Communicate with Consumers if Logistics Are Affected
The logistics industry was severely affected by the fifth wave of COVID-19, with some traders claiming that late delivery of the test kits was due to the delayed shipment of cargo to Hong Kong, or the shortage in manpower to distribute and deliver goods to customers after the arrival of the goods. Since the shipment time is an important determining factor for consumers to purchase RAT kits at high prices during the height of the pandemic, it is unfair to consumers if a trader fails to deliver on the promised date after receiving the payment, and fails to promptly respond to customer service enquiries. The Council urges traders to carefully assess the stability of stock supply and their capacity to fulfil orders, and reminds retailers of their responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the product details and claims instead of just selling the products. Irrespective whether the products are sold in a physical store, online store or official website, the product information provided by traders or product claims made at the time of sale must be clear and accurate; otherwise, this may amount to a violation of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.
- Before making the purchase, enquire with the trader on information such as the manufacturing date and expiry date. Do not stockpile to avoid wastage;
- Even for purchase through an official website, consumers should still carefully read the terms and conditions as well as the return and exchange policy. If there is no refund clause, consumers should think twice whether to buy from this online store;
- Credit cards and some payment platforms have transaction appeal and chargeback mechanisms. In the event that the trader fails to deliver the goods, consumers may be able to get refund through the credit card or payment platform. However, bank transfers or electronic payment tools generally do not have such chargeback mechanisms;
- Retain screenshots of the trader’s description and details of the goods as evidence in case the actual product does not match the description;
- To help consumers understand and identify whether an RAT product is recognised by the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA), the Hong Kong Department of Health, the US Food and Drug Administration, the European Union, Australia, Macau and Singapore, etc., the Council has developed the “Search Tool for Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) Kits Approved for Use by Various Regions”, incorporating the approved lists of the above authorities. Users can simply log onto the following URL and enter the name of the RAT brand or the manufacturer to access to the relevant information.
Search Tool for Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) Kits Approved for Use by Various Regions:
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