Unwary consumers are still falling victim to the bait-and-switch sales tactics commonly adopted by dishonest electrical appliance shops.

23 April 1997
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Unwary consumers are still falling victim to the bait-and-switch sales tactics commonly adopted by dishonest electrical appliance shops.

In a renewed effort to alert the public to such practices, the Consumer Council today named an electrical appliance shop in Yuen Long for persisting in bait-and-switch tactics to defraud their customers.

The shop was identified as :
Kin Lee Electrical Co.
122 Yuen Long Main Street
Ground Floor
Yuen Long
New Territories

The shop was the subject of 10 consumer complaints, between September 1996 and March 1997, with claims totalling $30,090.

In November 1996, the proprietor was issued a warning to immediately cease and desist in dishonest sales practices. The owner promised to rectify. All outstanding complaints referred by the Council were subsequently settled.

Despite the undertaking, complaints against this shop continued to be received by the Consumer Council in the first 3 months of this year which prompted the Council to expose their name.

The sales tactics adopted in all complaint cases followed a similar pattern. The shop enticed customers by displaying very low prices for certain products.

After obtaining an initial deposit or full payment, the salesman then used different ruses to persuade the customer to switch to the purchase of another brand. If the customer refused to switch and asked for a refund, the salesman would refuse and become abusive.

Some of the ruses used were claims that the products were either out of stock or unsuitable or inconvenient for the customer's intended use.

(Details of these complaint cases can be found in the attached table).

Consumer complaints against electrical shops have consistently been among the largest category of complaints received by the Consumer Council.

Bait-and-switch sales tactics are a frequent cause of consumer dissatisfaction but the situation has improved substantially following a blaze of publicity by the Consumer Council and joint action with the police.

Analysis of the Council's complaints against electrical shops for bait-and-switch tactics during the past 5-year period has shown a great decline from 1,219 cases in 1992 to 346 cases in 1996.

But the problem is far from being stamped out as this case clearly illustrates. Consumers should therefore heed the following advice:

  • check beforehand the price of the product you have in mind to purchase and be on guard if a price displayed or quoted appears to be far below the norm;
  • ask the shop to check if stock is available before placing order;
  • ask the shop to provide a receipt that contains information corresponding with your purchase, i.e. price, brandname, model, accessories and any other relevant details (whether delivery and installation are included and date of delivery);
  • do not part with your money before obtaining the receipt;
  • insist on the purchase originally agreed upon if you suspect the shop may be practising bait-and-switch tactic; and
  • leave the shop if your demand is refused, or the salesman becomes abusive, and report the matter to the Consumer Council.

Besides such dishonest sales practice which is the most frequent cause of complaints against electrical shops, there are also concerns with overcharging, inferior quality of goods and unsatisfactory repair or maintenance services.

But, overall, the situation is improving. The total number of consumer complaints against the trade has steadily dropped from 2,557 in 1992 to 2,424 in 1993, 1,887 in 1994, 1,487 in 1995 and 1,455 in 1996. There were 332 in the first quarter of 1997.

Date

Product Involved

Claims (Bait-and-Switch Tactics)

9/96 TV Set
  • suitable only for Cable TV;
  • would need a connector for wireless TV stations (TVB & ATV)
11/96 TV Set
  • same as above
11/96 Refrigerator
  • environmentally friendly fridge that needed refill of refrigerant regularly
11/96 Refrigerator
  • same as above;
  • unable to store meat;
  • the fridge needed to be switched to 1° C and, after some time, to 7° C
11/96 TV Set
  • only a NICAM machine, not a NICAM TV;
  • incompatible with complainant's Hi-Fi system
1/97 Water Heater
  • out of stock
1/97 20" Multi-system TV Set
  • needed to have a decoder at additional cost;
  • for Cable TV only
1/97 Range Hood
  • needed to refill oil frequently
2/97 Washing Machine
  • needed to install a compressor at additional cost
3/97 TV Set
  • only for Cable TV