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Business Advice

Complaints down 75% after 'lemon law': Case

Just 10 complaints about defective goods were received by Case last month, down from 39 in August.
The Straits Times - October 15, 2012
By: Jessica Lim
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Complaints down 75% after 'lemon law': Case

DESPITE the introduction last month of a "lemon law" to protect consumers, the number of complaints about defective goods in the same month fell almost 75 per cent on the previous month's figures.

One reason could be that businesses are now resolving more disputes with consumers directly, according to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

Just 10 complaints about defective goods were received by Case last month, down from 39 in August.

The number of complaints in other months this year ranged from a low of 28 in February to a high of 44 in March.

Retailers contacted by The Straits Times cited two other possible reasons - tighter product-sourcing practices, and front-line staff being more stringent with the pre-sale check of items.

At Petmart in Serangoon North, which sells pets and related products, 10 customers - half the usual number - asked for an item to be repaired, exchanged or refunded last month.

"We are now more careful when picking products from suppliers, and we make doubly sure the items are not defective," said owner Benjamin Wee, 37.

He added that it had stopped selling 20 per cent of products, which were low-quality items made in China. "When we heard about the new lemon law," he said, "we started returning and even throwing away the inferior products and replaced them with high-quality Chinese, German and Japanese products instead."

Mustafa Centre managing director Mustaq Ahmad said the number of returns and exchanges dropped last month by about 20 per cent compared with the figures in previous months.

Under the new law, which took effect on Sept 1, defective goods - or "lemons" - reported within six months of delivery are presumed to have the flaws at the time of delivery.

Buyers seeking recourse must follow a two-stage framework. First, they can ask that the defective item be repaired or replaced.

If the retailer fails to do so "within a reasonable time or without significant inconvenience", the buyer can keep the product but demand a discount, or return it for a full refund.

The law has helped Case adjudicate in three cases involving defective goods.

In one instance, on Sept 8, a consumer who bought an $808 40-inch LED television found that the images were fuzzy. The retailer repeatedly refused to issue a refund or exchange the product. The customer approached Case, which wrote a letter on his behalf, referring to the new "lemon law". When the customer approached the vendor, a full refund was given.

Lawyer K. Anparasan, a partner at KhattarWong's litigation and dispute resolution department, said the drop in complaints is a good sign and shows that with the lemon law in place, retailers are more diligent in ensuring they deliver good quality.

He said the law seems to be encouraging best practices among retailers, but it is still too early to tell if it is a success.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry, which has been monitoring feedback, said the law's implementation has been smooth.

So far, 57 briefing sessions have been conducted by the ministry and Case for about 5,000 retailers. They educate them on the law's provisions and limitations, and on safeguards against consumer abuse. Sixteen more sessions will be held by the year end.

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