What can I do if a store or restaurant has ripped me off in China?
The law states that customers on the Chinese mainland have the right to return unused or faulty items, or items that they have decided that they do not want, within a certain time period. However, the terms and conditions, as well as the time period in which the customer can return the item, are not defined by the law. As a consequence, they may differ from store to store. They also differ depending on whether the customer purchased it from a physical store or an online shop.
Here’s how to protect your rights as a customer when buying things in China.
Buying at physical stores
You should receive a receipt (and/or a fapiao, which is similar and can be used on expense forms, among other things) for any purchases you make in larger, established stores. If you aren’t given one, then you should certainly ask for one.
However, if you are shopping at a smaller business, especially an alleyway store, you probably won’t be given one at all, no matter how hard you demand it – so it’s generally a good idea to avoid buying large, expensive items in such places.
Keep the receipt as a proof of purchase until you start using the item you have bought. You should also keep the packaging (if there is any) and not remove tags – especially on clothes – until you are sure you want the item. If you find the item is not what you want, or is faulty, go to the store as soon as possible to refund it or change it.
Stores are allowed to decide their own terms and conditions for returning items, as well as the length of time that a customer has before they can no longer return goods. If you are not sure about the item you want to buy, ask for their terms first. Stores located in commercial malls – on the whole – tend to have better service and may allow customers to refund or change items within one month of purchase, so long as they keep the receipt, tags and packaging. However, this is only a general guideline and not a rule, so do still ask about return and refund policies on purchase.
Refund/replace guarantees are usually separate from a repair warranty, which may remain valid far beyond the return period.
Buying at online stores
As with physical stores, online stores must have a return/refund policy, but this policy can be determined by the stores themselves, provided they allow for a minimum of a seven-day no-questions-asked returns policy, starting on the day that the product is delivered. Each store has its own rules on refunding items, so check them out before you buy – and pay special attention to who pays the delivery fees when sending back items.
Taobao.com, the biggest online shopping site, for example, sticks with the regulation seven days upon arrival of the item. If the item is faulty, customers can take a photo of the damage to show it to the seller, who will then pay the return fees. If the refund is due to the customer changing their mind, however, the customer should send the product back to the seller at their own expense.
Please note, however, that the Chinese law about minimum return times does allow for it to be waivered if the buyer and seller agree to a contract that nullifies the rule, if the product warrants it. You may find that certain items, such as mobile phone top-ups, underwear, or special offers, are sold under such a contract and are consequently not available for exchange or refund.
Eating in a restaurant
Most restaurants say that once a dish is being made, it is non-refundable, as it must be thrown away if not consumed – so if you change your mind about a food, let your waiter know ASAP. However, if you find something that should not have been in the dish – such as a human hair – you can call manger over to complain. They will probably cook you a new plate, or give you the existing dish for free. They may even give you the entire meal for free, if the contaminant was particularly awful.
There is no obligation for them to do this, but as the correct legal procedure is for you to make a formal complaint to the authorities, they will usually offer the food to avoid any hassle.
Chinese law does mandate a specific return/cancellation period for products sold over the phone or via television: 30 days from when it was first purchased.
How to complain
Official governing bodies
If you think that you have been cheated by a physical store, you can complain to the Customer Protection Office (CPO) at your local Industrial and Commercial Bureau by dialing 12315 (open 8.30 am-6 pm). It is best to call them once you have your receipt, but you do not need one in order to lodge a complaint – however , if you wish to make a complaint after leaving a store, you must possess proof that you actually bought the goods there. If the store is refusing to give you a receipt, you should call the CPO while you are still there, assuming it is within their opening hours.
If you find that a restaurant has food safety issues, including things like foreign items in food, you can call 12331 (open 24 hours a day) to report to your local Food Safety Monitoring Bureau.
If you want to complain on a product bought in an online shop, go to the customer service of the shopping site. For example, you can find the after-sale service department of Taobao.com here.
For products sold over the phone or TV, or other direct selling methods, unscrupulous companies can be reported to the CPO on 12315, just as if they were a physical store.
If you are complaining about a store and dial 12315 or 12331 at the scene, you may need to wait for an agent to come to settle the dispute.
Depending on the nature of your complaint, the time needed to resolve the problem may vary. If you are asking for a refund, and the authority decides your complaint is just, they will ask the seller to refund the item you bought immediately. Other cases may take longer, such as cases involving fake products. In these cases the bureau may need to take the products in for testing, which will take three-to-seven working days.
The actual results can very from merely refunding the money you paid to closing the entire place down. The latter is particularly true in the case of severe problems with restaurants, as the authorities are paying more and more attention to food safety. Severe violations may result in the restaurant being shut down for days or even months, or having its license removed.
Private court cases
If you feel your rights have been severely violated and considerable damage has been done, you can raise a private court case against the store or restaurant, and either hire a lawyer or defend yourself at court. Such cases should be conducted at a local court presiding over the area where the business you are suing is located; in middle-to-big-sized cities, there are usually several district courts presiding over city districts; go to the relevant one for the business you are complaining about.
Once at the court you should present your Civil Complaint Statement (a written statement from you or your lawyer setting out the details of your complaint), your ID, photocopy of basic evidence (receipts, test results, testimonies etc) and – if you hire a lawyer – your letter of authorization. Other materials may also be required, depending on the nature and details of your case. After the court receives your case they will go through a primary investigation, which will take about seven days, before they make a decision about whether your case will be accepted.
If the case is accepted, the court date will be sent to you and the defendant; if the court feels that there is a lack of evidence, the materials will be sent back to you so that they can be revised and presented again.
In order to avoid being cheated by shop or restaurant, and save the trouble of raising complaint or getting into a legal suit, customers can follow several rules:
- Do not buy from stores in which products are absurdly cheap, as these run the considerable risk of being fake and poor quality. If you buy large, expensive items it is a better idea to go to a shopping mall or recognized, branded franchise shops.
- Always ask for a receipt after purchase, and do not remove tags until you are sure you want the item.
- Check the ratings and comments about online shops, stores and restaurant before you spend money with them. If you are buying from a retailer using a central website such as Taobao.com then you should be able to find ratings for the store, reliability and quality of products; most online shopping websites use a five-point marking system, with higher scores being better. Many restaurants and physical stores will have ratings on review/group buying websites such as dianping.com, meituan.com, and nuomi.com; these reviews are customer-written, and will provide a useful guide to figuring out which places are trustworthy and which are not.
Useful Chinese words and phrases
|举报||jǔbào||Report to the authority|
|食品安全||shípǐn ānquán||Food safety|
|可以给我收据吗？||Kěyǐ gěiwǒ shōujù ma?||Please can I have a receipt?|