LCQ19: Protection of consumers' rights and interests of online shoppers and development of e-commerce
Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (May 2):
Regarding the protection of consumers' rights and interests of people who purchase goods and services online (online shopping) and the development of e-commerce, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has compiled statistics on (i) the person-times of online shopping, (ii) the penetration rate of online shopping, (iii) the total value of online retail sales, and (iv) the per capita spending on online shopping, in each of the past five years; if so, of the details (set out in a table); if not, the reasons for that;
(2) of the number of complaints about online shopping received by the authorities in each of the past five years, with a breakdown by nature of complaint; among such complaints, of the number of those involving online stores which have only set up accounts on social media platforms and have not undergone business registration nor operated a physical shop, and whether the authorities have taken the initiative to monitor the business practices of this type of online stores; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) given that the Expert Group on E-commerce (EGE) was established in May 2015 under the Working Group on Manufacturing Industries, Innovative Technology, and Cultural and Creative Industries of the Economic Development Commission, of EGE's current membership as well as (i) the number of meetings held, (ii) the specific work carried out, (iii) the recommendations put forward for promoting e-commerce, and (iv) the achievements made, so far; and
(4) whether the authorities have monitored and studied the development trends of e-commerce in Hong Kong and around the world, and reviewed if the existing legislation and regulatory regimes can keep abreast of the latest development, so as to effectively protect the consumers' rights and interests of online shoppers and maintain the market's level playing field; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
Having consulted the Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB), the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) and the Consumer Council (CC), my reply to the four parts of the question is as follows:
(1) C&SD conducted the "Thematic Household Survey on Information Technology Usage and Penetration" during June to August 2014 and April to July 2016 respectively. Information collected includes usage of online purchasing services, and the relevant statistics are set out at Annex I. C&SD does not have statistics on the total amount of online retail sales.
(2) Consumers' rights are protected by different legislation, including the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (the Ordinance), and consumers who have disputes with online traders may seek assistance from various agencies, such as CC. The Ordinance, which took effect from July 19, 2013, prohibits some common unfair trade practices, including false trade descriptions and misleading omissions etc., and is equally applicable to both online traders and physical stores. The Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) is the principal enforcement agency of the Ordinance, while the Communications Authority (CA) enforces the provisions of the Ordinance that prohibit unfair trade practices in relation to the commercial practices of licensees under the Telecommunications Ordinance and the Broadcasting Ordinance that are connected with the provision of a telecommunications service or broadcasting service under the two Ordinances. The numbers of complaints received by CC, C&ED and CA on online shopping are set out at Annex II. CC, C&ED and CA do not maintain statistics on number of complaints involving online shops which only have accounts at social media platforms but without business registration or physical stores. According to the study report on online shopping published by CC in 2016, online shoppers in Hong Kong were highly satisfied with their experiences, with 79 per cent of the respondents expressing confidence in online shopping, and some 98 per cent being satisfied or very satisfied. The law enforcement agencies will take necessary follow-up actions in response to every complaint, regardless of the sales channels involved, and keep watch on online commercial activities proactively.
(3) The Working Group on Manufacturing Industries, Innovative Technology, and Cultural and Creative Industries under the Economic Development Commission set up the Expert Group on E-commerce (EGE) in May 2015, comprising representatives from the e-commerce sector, local enterprises, relevant government and public bodies, to study the development potential of e-commerce in Hong Kong. EGE held six meetings and met with the trade and relevant organisations multiple times to exchange views on policies and measures to promote the development of e-commerce. EGE drafted initial recommendations to promote and strengthen the development of e-commerce in Hong Kong at the end of 2016, and relevant Government bureaux (including ITB and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer) are examining the relevant ideas recommended.
(4) As stated in part (2) above, relevant government departments have been keeping watch on the regulation on e-commerce, closely monitoring online sales practices, and proactively enforcing various legislation against unfair trade practices online, in order to protect consumer rights and maintain fair competition in the market.