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New Problems Emerge While Old Problems Remain Unresolved Food Delivery Platforms Urged to Increase Pricing Transparency and Customer Services to Safeguard Reputation

  • 2022.07.18

As a result of social distancing measures and dine-in restrictions, consumers have been dining out less, resulting in an upsurge in demands for food delivery platforms. However, the Consumer Council found that complaints involving food delivery platforms have been on the rise in recent years, with 522 complaints received in the first 6 months of 2022, an increase of over 30% when compared with that of the same period last year. The Council found that apart from old issues such as wrong or delayed delivery, some recently introduced monthly subscription plans or membership schemes have also caused new disputes, becoming a cause for concern. For instance, some platforms offered monthly subscription plans with various discounts, but the discounted self-pickup price was more expensive than the dine-in price. Another consumer was still charged a monthly fee on their credit card account despite having deleted the ordering app that claimed to provide a free trial within the welcome offer period. The Council stresses that it is understandable for food delivery platforms to offer various concessions or membership schemes to capture the market share. However, their sales practices may be misleading and may even convey to consumers an impression that they have been deceived. Not only would this lead to disputes with consumers, but it may also damage the reputation of the platforms, causing an unanticipated loss.

The Council urges food delivery platforms to strengthen price transparency and set out the various charges and related terms and conditions clearly so that consumers can make informed choices and gain confidence towards their services. On the other hand, consumers should not be tempted by the various promotional offers on the platform to impetuously register an account or purchase services. Instead, they should carefully compare the pricing listed on platforms, and the difference with dine-in pricing; restrictions on the terms and conditions of the offers; and whether there are hidden charges or details, etc. to safeguard their consumer rights.

Case 1: Discounted Takeaway Price More Expensive than Original Price at Restaurant

The complainant was a registered user of Company A’s food delivery platform and had subscribed to a monthly membership to enjoy more benefits. She purchased wonton noodles through the platform and chose the self-pickup method. The platform displayed a 25% discount on the price, which was $30 after the discount. However, when the complainant went to the restaurant to collect her meal, she found that the dine-in price for wonton noodles was only $30, so she felt misled by the discount advertised on the platform. The complainant later purchased a self-pickup “Stir-fried Beef Noodle” from another restaurant through the same platform, which indicated a discounted price of $59.2. However, when the complainant collected the food from the restaurant, she found that the original price of the dish was only $56, which was cheaper than the discounted price on the platform. The complainant opined that Company A’s sales practices in marking up the price and offering discounts were akin to cheating consumers, and she thus lodged a complaint with the Council.

The Council wrote to Company A expressing concern about the discrepancy between the prices quoted by the platform and the restaurants. Company A replied that they encourage restaurants to set the same price as dine-in, but the final decision was up to the restaurant, leading to potential price variance. Company A claimed to have urged its relevant departments and the restaurants involved to make improvements and to increase the transparency of dine-in and takeaway prices. The Council recommends the platform list out both the platform price and the dine-in price of the food so as to enable consumers to be aware of the differences before placing an order.

Case 2: Monthly Subscription Fee Charged Even After Deleting the App

The complainant registered an account on the app of Company B’s food delivery platform in order to enjoy the delivery service, but after trying it for 2 days, he found it unsuitable and deleted the app. The complainant said that he had never received any email or SMS from Company B informing him of the membership fee until he checked his credit card statement to find out that the platform had been charging him a monthly subscription fee for 8 months, amounting to around $800 in total. He thus complained to Company B and requested a refund of the relevant fees, but he received a reply that he had agreed to accept the terms and conditions of the company when he subscribed to the service, and that it had been registered for many months and therefore no refund could be arranged. The complainant opined that the practice of Company B was inappropriate as they had hidden the requirements for the monthly subscription charge within the terms and conditions without reminding or clearly seeking the consent of consumers. Opining that consumers would be inadvertently charged upon oversight, the complainant lodged a complaint to the Council.

Company B replied that there was a free trial version of the app and customers must undergo an SMS verification in order to activate the membership account, and the terms and conditions stated therein had stipulated that a monthly subscription fee would be automatically charged after the free trial period. When registering for the account, the customer had agreed to the terms and conditions of the monthly subscription fee, and could cancel the membership at any time through the account page on the website or app. However, refunds will only be given if the membership is cancelled within a 14-day cooling-off period. After the Council’s conciliation, Company B eventually offered to refund the subscription fee of 1 month. The complainant accepted the offer. The Council recommends that platforms should take the initiative to remind users through various channels, such as emails or SMS, before the free trial period ends and the collection of monthly subscriptions or notify consumers before the expiry of the cooling-off period.

Case 3: Refused to Refund for Delayed Delivery and Wrong Food Orders

The complainant ordered food from Company C’s food delivery platform and chose “Shrimp Fried Egg Rice” and “Singaporean Fried Rice Vermicelli”. The platform indicated that the delivery time would be between “14:10 and 14:20”, but later postponed the delivery time to between “14:20 and 14:40”. The complainant called the restaurant to enquire about the food delivery and was told that the food was ready, but the delivery person had not arrived to pick it up. The complainant thus contacted Company C, and the food was finally delivered at 14:47, which was late than over 30 minutes than the initial expected delivery time. The complainant then found that the delivered food was not what he had ordered. He took a photo of the lunch box and the receipt and sent it to Company C to seek a refund. Nevertheless, Company C replied to the complainant that the lid of the lunch box in the photo had not been opened and it was difficult to prove whether the wrong food had been delivered, so that no refund could be arranged. The complainant opined that the lunch box was a transparent plastic box through which the food could be seen and that the receipt was printed with the name of the restaurant and the food ordered, indicating that it was different from the order, so he decided to file a complaint with the Council.

Company C initially refused to refund the money on the grounds that the photo did not show the type of food, but after the Council’s conciliation, Company C eventually agreed to arrange a refund. The Council stressed that the problem of late delivery was common in food delivery services, as reflected in the instant case, and it could easily upset the expectations of consumers. Also, the complaints handling of these platforms were rather rigid and sloppy. The Council urges the industry to improve the quality of customer services and to be flexible in handling disputes in order to help build good customer relationships in the long run.

The Council reminds consumers that although food delivery platform services are convenient, consumers should remain rational when using the apps and avoid over-relying on them as a daily habit. They should make more comparisons and read the details of the charges and relevant terms and conditions carefully before committing to any monthly subscription plans. The following should also be noted:

  • Pay attention to order information such as pricing: Apart from referring to the dine-in price when making an order, consumers should also check the details of the order, such as the selection of self-pickup or delivery, as well as  the accuracy of location and time, before submitting the order;
  • Scrutinise membership tiers and details of promotional offers: Some food delivery platforms categorise their users as free members and paid members. Paid members may be entitled to different promotional offers, such as greater discounts or free delivery, etc. Consumers are advised to read the terms of the “free trial” of the paid membership service in detail, as a membership fee may incur after the trial.
  • Be aware of account records: Consumers should regularly check their “membership plan” and “purchase history” settings, as well as monthly bank statements. If any unauthorised charges are identified, consumers should contact relevant platforms as soon as possible to follow up;
  • Understand the termination process: Deleting the app does not necessarily discontinue the service. Subscribers may need to follow specified steps and initiate their termination within a set period of time in order to be confirmed as having completed the membership cancellation process;
  • Keep receipts for future communication with the platform: Consumers are advised to take photos and retain the receipts for record purposes. In case of disputes, they should quickly contact the food delivery platform and provide relevant information supporting the purchase. Some food delivery platforms may not have a hotline, and consumers may only be able to follow up with the company through online customer service and email.


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