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[Editorial] Consumer Protection in e-Shopping

Posted October. 22, 2009 04:44,   


Quite a few people do not go to a department store, supermarket or market and instead shop online. The volume of the Internet shopping mall market has risen from 18.1 trillion won (15.4 billion dollars) last year to 20 trillion won (17.1 billion dollars) this year, matching the level of department stores at 20.4 trillion won (17.4 billion dollars). Samsung Economic Research Institute said the share of Web shopping in the retail market was 7.4 percent in Korea, far higher than 2.9 percent in the United States and Japan.

Online sales have a 13-year history in Korea. They soared from 3.3 trillion won (2.8 billion dollars) in 2001 to 10.7 trillion won (9.1 billion dollars) in 2005. Online sales exceeded that of supermarkets in 2006 and will likely surpass those of department stores. With the change in lifestyle brought on by the increase in Internet users and dual-income couples, diversified items, and cheaper costs thanks to reduced logistics costs, the number of “monitor shoppers” has increased.

Online shopping has many advantages but many consumers are often duped. Consumer advocacy groups have received complaints that designer shoes purchased online were fakes or a watch costing more than 100,000 won (85.4 dollars) broke in a day. The Korea National Council of Consumer Organizations found more than 70 percent of 104 complaints on suspected fake designer goods were bought online. In addition, low quality of repair service is also a common gripe among buyers.

Online shopping has a structural limit in that consumers cannot see goods like they can at an offline store. So ensuring ethics of sellers is more important online than offline. A significant number of sellers put seemingly good products on their Web sites and take money and send fake or defunct goods. There are also problems in the Consumer Protection in E-Commerce Act that holds only sellers accountable, not Internet shopping malls, when a problem with a product arises. Consumers tend to use well-known shopping malls. The law should be revised in a way that holds such malls accountable.

Major online retailers such as Gmarket, Auction, Interpark and GSeshop must sort out problematic sellers and goods. They need to consider expanding the escrow system that pays sellers only when consumers find no problem with their goods. In response to the rising use of online shopping, the retail market should be protected by beefing up consumer protection through preventing fraud and helping victims.