Charge Disputes Arising from Group and Ship Service Damage to Shipment Borne Solely by Consumers

15 August 2019
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In order to save shipping costs for online purchases, consumers often choose to group and ship the items they purchase from different online stores. The Consumer Council received 243 complaints last year alleging unclear shipping costs and additional fees, late delivery, damage or loss of goods during transit, etc. Moreover, when disputes arise, it is difficult to ascertain whether the liability should fall on the online stores, the online shopping platforms, the transportation companies or the group shippers. Besides, the process of making claims is time-consuming and complicated, and consumers may have to solely bear the loss themselves.  

The shipping rate in general is calculated by the actual weight or volumetric weight of the goods and many group shippers set limits on the weight and size of the consigned goods. Since the shipping process often involves several warehouses and multiple transit points, the chance of loss or damage to the shipment is relatively high and it would be very difficult for consumers to trace the root cause and identify the liable party for compensation.  

The Council urges the industry to proactively improve the quality of its services and increase its information transparency, including the package size limits, the calculation formula for additional charges, and the compensation for delay, loss or damage to shipment. Due to the special features of group and ship service which involves the logistics arrangement of multiple parties, group shippers should adopt appropriate measures to reduce mistakes in delivery to protect consumer interests.  

Case 1: Low price transparency on group and ship service and abuse of  oversize surcharge

A complainant made an order for company A to ship some goods from the Mainland to Hong Kong. He followed all the instructions on the company website and completed online payment of $173.7 for the shipment. On the following day, he received a telephone call from a staff of company A who demanded a surcharge of $200 because the length of the goods allegedly exceeded the standard size by 3cm, or else the package would be returned to the seller with a handling charge imposed on the complainant. The complainant was dissatisfied that the levy of a surcharge was not stated when he placed the order online and the staff could not clearly explain on the phone why the goods was regarded as oversized. The staff claimed that all the shipment packages were processed by machine and the system automatically calculated the required fees. As the complainant needed the goods urgently, he had no choice but to settle the surcharge payment as required.

Subsequently, the complainant lodged a complaint with the Council. He argued that the surcharge imposed by company A was neither clear nor reasonable. He wanted to get a refund of the surchage. Upon receipt of the goods, the complainant measured the goods and confirmed that the goods acutally did not exceed the standard size for shipment. He then sent the photos with measurements to company A and informed the company that he had filed a complaint with the Council. Company A immediately replied that a refund of the surcharge would be arranged within 2 days to settle the dispute.

Case 2: Inaccurate company address caused loss of goods and follow up action was slow

The complainant ordered 2 items from a US website and had the goods delivered to the designated transit warehouse of Company B to group and ship the goods back to Hong Kong. Based on her experience, the goods was expected to reach the transit warehouse within 1 or 2 days. However, after having waited for nearly a week, the online tracking system still did not display any shipping information. The complainant kept asking Company B and was told after several contacts that the goods was mistakenly delivered to another transit warehouse. The complainant reiterated that she copied the warehouse address from Company B’s website and queried why the other transit warehouse would acknowledge receipt of goods not designated by its customers. Company B did not respond to her queries and just claimed that it would follow up the case with the other warehouse. As there was no reply from Company B after a month, the complainant filed a complaint with the Council.

Two months after the Council liased with Company B, the complainant was contacted by the company and was asked to produce the purchase receipt to facilitate the company to recover the goods from the other warehouse. There was no further response from Company B after the receipt was provided. The Council stepped in again and Company B explained that the courier assigned by the online shopping platform had sent the goods to another transit warehouse by mistake. After a long lapse of 3 months, the complainant finally received the goods. She subsequently noticed that the address of the US transit warehouse shown on company B’s website had been updated, which made her suspect that the delivery error was caused by the wrong address posted on the website. She asked the Council to put the case on record.

Case 3: Group shipper evaded liability for damage to shipment with no avenue to seek redress

The complainant sent the items she bought online to the transit warehouse of Company C in the Mainland to wait for group and ship to Hong Kong. While the goods were delivered on time, the complainant found that one of the wooden hangers and its associated parts were damaged. The complainant was very dissatisfied and immediately sent photo of the damaged items as proof to Company C to request for compensation in accordance with the terms of group shipping. Company C claimed that it needed to compare her photo with the one taken by the transit warehouse when the goods were received so as to ascertain whether the online store or the company was liable for the damage. After several days, Company C replied that the warehouse could not locate any photo of the goods. Hearing no response from Company C for a few weeks, the complainant lost hope and disposed of the broken hangers. Subsequently, Company C contacted the complainant and agreed to arrange compensation on the condition that she returned the damaged merchandise. The complainant therefore sought help from the Council.

Company C repeated in its email that return of the damaged merchandize was necessary for compensation. The complainant argued that she had immediately sent the photo of the damaged goods to company C upon receipt of the shipment and she was not told that the damaged items had to be retained and returned. The Council continued the conciliation efforts for several months but company C failed to respond. Finally, the complainant was advised to make a civil claim for compensation. 

Although group and ship works to reduce shipping costs, the quality of service largely depends on the efficiency of the various parties in the chain which includes the online shops, the overseas warehouses and destination logistics companies. In order to avoid loss, damages or delay in group shipment, consumers should refer to the following tips when selecting group and ship services: 

- Before placing an order, check the pre-set standard on the size and weight of the shipment package as well as the calculation formula for shipping charges, and confirm with the online shop the package, size and weight of the product for accurate calculation of shipment cost;
- Read carefully the terms and conditions of compensation in case of delays, and loss or damage to shipment, including whether the compensation amount is based on the actual price of the merchandise or the shipping cost, as well as whether there is any upper limit on the compensation amount, etc;
- When shipping relatively expensive or fragile items, consider purchasing extra logistics protection insurance and clearly understand the relevant terms and conditions. Also check with the online store to ensure that the merchandise has sufficient protective package and ask for a warning label, such as “Fragile, Handle With Care” to be affixed to the package;
- Inspect the items once received the shipment. Take and send photos as proof immediately to the group shippers if damages are found, together with a copy of the purchase receipt and shipment order as soon as possible. Consumers should try to retain the damaged merchandise or contact the shipper for advice if the damaged goods is not suitable for retention.

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