The Executive Yuan's Department of Consumer Protection (hereinafter referred to as the DCP) indicated that last year (2020), the special municipalities, counties, and cities in Taiwan received a total of 72,245 cases of consumer complaints and requests for mediation, a surge of 17,344 cases compared to 2019. Top 5 case types on the list are "shipment & logistics", "online games", "gyms", "appliances and peripherals", and "apparel, leather accessories, and footwear". In particular, the "shipment & logistics" category jumped to No.1 on the list due to the COVID-19 epidemic, with an increase of 2680 cases compared to that of 2019, while the other four categories have remained in top 5 for 2 years in a row.
The DCP listed the following cases of consumer complaints from the top 5 consumer disputes to remind consumers to protect their interests and rights.
Case 1: Cruise Tour Cancellation—consumers cannot accept the travel agency's explanation of their refund policy
Regarding the "shipment & logistics" category, because the COVID-19 pandemic strongly influenced people' willingness to go abroad last year, many people chose to cancel or change their tickets, thus resulting in consumer disputes over refunds for airplane or cruise ticket cancellation or modification. In Case 1, Ms. Chen booked a cruise trip scheduled to set off on March 23 last year with a travel agency and paid NT$130,000. However, due to the impact of the pandemic, on February 5th she expressed to the travel agency that she hoped to change or cancel the itinerary, and the travel agency replied that the trip could not be rescheduled. As for cancellation, if she canceled her booking 43 days before the trip, she would still need to pay 50% of the total travel fee, while if she canceled her booking 15 days before departure, then 75% of the fee would be retained. Ms. Chen believes that under the special circumstances caused by the pandemic, the refund ratio stated by the travel agency is quite unreasonable, so she filed a complaint.
The DCP held a meeting and asked the relevant agencies of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications—the Tourism Bureau and the Civil Aeronautics Administration—to strengthen their supervision on travel agencies. When consumers cancel a contract and request a refund, travel agencies shall honestly offer the relevant receipts and verify each expense if there are "necessary fees" that must be deducted. The relevant public associations were also requested to strengthen the education and promotion for members. When consumers cancel a contract and request a refund, travel agencies shall explain the relevant provisions of the contract clearly and handle the case leniently.
After the two parties underwent counseling and mediation, the two parties finally signed a cancellation agreement, and the travel agency settled on a refund of NT$60,000 with Ms. Chen.
Case 2: Online game players are dissatisfied with their accounts being frozen for no reason, requesting for accounts to be unlocked or compensation
For "online games" category, common consumer disputes included game accounts that are frozen for no reason or poor server stability. In Case 2, Mr. Lin’s game account was frozen by a game company, and he believed that his rights as a player had been damaged because the company could not specify the reason for freezing his account, so he filed a complaint.
According to the existing regulations of the "Mandatory and Prohibitory Provisions to Be Included in Standard Contracts for Online Game Connection Service" (hereinafter referred to as the Mandatory Provisions Included in Standard Contracts), online game companies shall inform consumers to correct their behaviors in the game within a prescribed time period when companies discover that consumers violate the game rules. In principle, if the player does not improve his/her behavior, the player's right to play a game may be restricted according to the case's severity. The exception is that when the player uses add-in software in the game, which violates fairness and reasonableness, the game company may terminate the contract immediately by notifying the player in writing or via email. However, the company shall be liable for damage to the consumer when the company misjudges the player's behavior or is unable to provide evidence for the player's misbehavior.
Consumers can claim their rights and interests in accordance with the relevant Mandatory Provisions Included in Standard Contracts. Additionally, the DCP has asked the Ministry of Economic Affairs to strengthen the education and promotion for game companies, and to conduct a rolling review on the Mandatory Provisions Included in Standard Contracts, thereby reducing consumer disputes.
In this case, the game company finally unfroze the complainant's account to reach a settlement after negotiations moderated by a consumer protection officer.
Case 3: Consumers want to terminate a contract, but the gym refuses to return the trainer courses fees
With rising public awareness of the importance of health, more and more people have formed the habit of exercising, so has been a corresponding increase in the number of consumer disputes in the "gyms" category. This type of consumer dispute mainly results from abrupt closure of a gym without notification or refunds for cancellation of contracts. In Case 3, Ms. Lee purchased 20 personal training courses at a gym. However, she became concerned about a higher infection risk due to going to gym, which is an enclosed space, during the epidemic. Therefore she decided to terminate the contract and requested a refund for the total fees (around NT$20,000) for 15 courses that hadn't been completed. However, the gym replied that it couldn't refund her expenses and recommended for her to reschedule the courses. Ms. Lee couldn't accept the gym's suggestion; therefore, she filed a complaint to request the refund.
The DCP reminds consumers to choose a gym with a good reputation and to always read through the contract carefully before signing up to protect their rights and interests. After the negotiations moderated by a consumer protection officer, the gym refunded NT$10,000 to the consumer in the end.
Additionally, to protect consumers' rights and interests, the DCP has asked the Sports Administration of the Ministry of Education (MOE) to revise the "Mandatory and Prohibitory Provisions to Be Included in Standard Contracts for Gym and Gym Trainer's Services" to stipulate the refund policy, fees, damages when either party terminates a contract due to force majeure or other unattributable reasons.
Case 4: Products bought from a whole-page advertisements have obvious defects, but there is no way to ask for a refund
With the increasing popularity of online shopping in recent years, along with the impact of the epidemic, the cases of consumer disputes over online purchases of appliances have doubled. The main cause of the disputes are the return and exchange of products from online shopping, and the false advertising of products on whole-page advertisements. In Case 4, Mr. Wang bought a washing machine advertised as imported from Germany on Facebook, but he found that the body of the machine was obviously damaged after he opened up the package, and it was even unusable after being plugged in. He was quite dissatisfied with the quality of machine and wanted to request a return. He then contacted the sender, freight forwarding agent, but only received a reply that he had to wait for the seller to contact him. Mr. Wang believed that it was the freight forwarding agent that received the payment; thus the agent should be held accountable for returning a product and refunding the full amount, so he filed a complaint against the company.
The DCP convened meetings on related disputes, and requested the Directorate General of Highways of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to supervise freight forwarders whether they properly carry out the information disclosure of the senders, and to assist freight forwarders to strengthen the coordination mechanism for handling the disputes over cash on delivery. Furthermore, freight forwarders were requested to conduct stringent audits to find shippers with poor reputations, and further avoid further cooperation with unscrupulous companies.
In this case, the shipper’s information has been fully disclosed. After the coordination between the two parties, the freight forwarding agent has fully refunded to the complainant and reached a settlement with him.
Case 5: Products purchased online did not meet expectations, and the seller refused to return or exchange them with various reasons.
For the "Apparel, leather accessories, and footwear" category, consumer disputes mostly arise from online shopping and are largely due to issues of returns and exchanges of products such as defective products or shipping disputes, as well as refund issues. In Case 5, Ms. Wu bought yoga pants online and found that the size was too large after trying the pants on, so she wanted to exchange them. However, the seller refused to exchange the pants by reason of that the yoga pants were considered underwear and had been sold with a special discount. Miss Wu could not accept the seller's reason for refusal, so she filed a complaint and requested a return.
In this case, consumers can claim their rights and interests in accordance with "The "Regulations on Reasonable Matters as Exceptions to Rescind the Distance Sales" (hereinafter referred to as the "Regulations on Reasonable Matters as Exceptions"). Because yoga pants are not considered as decay-prone products or customized products, therefore yoga pants shall be regarded as an exception due to reasonable considerations, and the seller has agreed to refund to her after mediation.
In order to protect consumers and help them exercise the right of rescission, the DCP has held a meeting to formulate the relevant regulations for products governed under the "personal hygiene products" of the Regulations on Reasonable Matters as Exceptions with companies in related fields, thereby avoiding e-commerce companies to improperly expand the scope of application of reasonable matters as exceptions.
The following are the DCP's reminders to consumers:
- When playing online games, consumers should fully understand the regulations of "Mandatory and Prohibitory Provisions to Be Included in Standard Contracts for Online Game Connection Service" and game rules.
- When signing up for gym memberships, consumers are advised to choose a monthly payment package.
- When shopping online, consumers are advised to choose shopping websites that are either well-known in Taiwan or with good reputations. Consumers may choose third-party payment services to complete their purchases.
- Before purchasing products, consumers should read the relevant information on return and exchange, and pay attention to whether there are reasonable matters as exceptions to protect their own rights and interests.
Finally, if consumer disputes still occur, consumers can call the consumer service hotline at 1950 and consult the consumer service centers of local authorities for further information, or go to the official website of the Executive Yuan's Department of Consumer Protection (https://cpc.ey.gov.tw) to file a complaint online and protect their rights.