Friday, October 24, 2014

Sim Lim Square, scams, contracts, consumer protection, misrepresentation and lack of help

Malaysian diver who performed badly during a game blamed his bad experience at Sim Lim Square while buying two iPhone 6s at doubled the price (> SGD4,500; that included exorbitant, misrepresented, ill-informed, contracted in-house warranty). The Commonwealth gold medalist Ooi Tze Liang was so much affected by the experience that he lacked concentration for the dive afterwards.

Sim Lim Square is a place full of vultures. That's the ugly side of an actually wonderful place to hunt for electronics (but the best is still IT Fairs, Electronic Fairs, and the likes). We are more careful and smart (after several past lessons) when dealing with Sim Lim Square salespersons. Alas, for the visitors to Singapore, they are more susceptible to being conned. They should have consulted TripAdvisor before heading to Sim Lim Square (but unfortunately, some was directed there by hotel staffs instinctively upon being asked, especially Sim Lim Square is known by many as a place for electronics minus its bad reputation). Also note that Lucky plaza is another retail place known to "con" tourists (read reviews before visiting any place). If you are a tourist and need internet access, you can access Wireless@Sg for free with one-time registration (for more information about registration and the hotspots available, visit Singtel Wireless@Sg page). With an internet access, study the review of any place before visiting them.

Next, to deal with the salesperson at Sim Lim square, one important attribute buyers/visitors should NOT have is to be FRIENDLY and SMILEY. Wipe that look away from your face. You don't have to be rude, but you must not be too friendly and smiley (which will be your Achilles' heel). Be serious with your buy and let the other person know that "I'm here for a bargain and everything is about PRICE". Ask about the NETT price (inclusive of 7% GST [tax]) constantly.

What to look out for:
  1. STARetailer is a label to identify shops at Sim Lim Square that are less risky. For more information, visit Sim Lim Square Star Retailer.
  2. Behaviour of salesperson in a shop. If they are persistent, aggressive, unfriendly, and act in a pack (like wolves), say "bye bye".
  3. If you spot that most of the items are not price-tagged, say"bye bye". It is really sad to know that in Singapore, tagging items with price is not mandatory. In Malaysia, if any product is found to be untagged with a price, the business entity will be FINED. At times, I wanted to report to the authority about the lack of price tag in certain shops, but I'm clueless as to where to make such report. I haven't consulted CASE for advice. Probably someday.

How you are tricked:
  1. Price or lack of. When you parted your credit card without asking to see the itemized bill (or receipt) first, what comes later in credit card bill can be scary sometimes... that's when you ask, "what happened to the price we were talking about?". Even if the darn salesperson printed the credit card bill for your signature, you can ALWAYS say NO. Just say "I want to cancel the deal, the price is not right". Note that the final bill can be bloated with "sale taxes" that is not itemized on the bill. In Singapore, Goods & Services tax (GST) is only 7% and will be printed clearly as such. If the final bill lacked itemized bill for price of item (negotiated) and GST at 7%, just refuse to pay! Note that for tourists, the GST is refundable in Changi Airport. For more information, visit Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) for GST refund.
  2. Contract signing, in Ooi Tze Liang's case. If the contract didn't state the price or coverage for the services provided (e.g. in-house warranty) and the price came out too much for you, you have the right to void the contract and SCREAM, MISREPRESENTATION!!!!! FRAUD!!!! That will grab attention... but seriously, if the contract was pushed to you and they did a lousy explanation about the price and the coverage (due to non-disclosure, or deliberate omission of facts), you have the rights to void the contract. Call for help, e.g. police or Sim Lim management, especially when they refuse to return your credit card or hold you hostage. BUT NEVER PAY THEM FOR "DAMAGES"/BREACH OF CONTRACT. It's better that the police come to the shop and "arrest" (I prefer to see it as rescue) you rather than to let the police inform you later that, "this scam has happened to two tourists before you" suggesting that it's normal thing to happen in Singapore.
  3. Cooling off period and rights to cancel a contract. Don't let unscrupulous salespersons scaring you off by saying that contract cancellation on the spot will subject consumers to paying for compensation for breach of contract. Recently, with amendments to Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) (Cancellation of Contracts) Regulations 2014, consumers are more protected and there is a cooling off period to cancel contracts. Refer to Ministry of Trade & Industry Singapore (MTI) Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act for detail.
  4. Selling consumers defective, used or refurbished (resold), mismatched (e.g. items sold is different from advertised), reduced (e.g. removal of some parts to compensate for price reduction without informing buyers), Frankensteined (e.g. mixing old components or cheaper generic alternatives into products) goods, and other unacceptable practices. We tend to find out about the problem after some time and by then, the salesperson or shop will not entertain us for refund. However, Singapore Lemon Law provides a protection to consumers against such deceptive practices by business owners. However, Lemon Law only covers products. It does not cover services (I called CASE to find that out). Refer to CASE for FAQ on Lemon law. Refer to CASE for Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) & Lemon Law.
  5. Selling buyers items at exorbitant price.
  6. Selling fakes. Note that Kingston now has an genuine labels using Phantom and Colour-shift technology. Alas, there are other products that can be easily imitated and sold as genuine. Some provide product validation online, but most still lacked this security measure to protect consumers.
  7. Charging items with additional "service fees", e.g. "unlocking fees" for game consoles, hence increasing the amount of the final bill.
  8. Huckster behaviour, e.g. harassment, aggressive sale tactic, throwing "freebies", begging, insulting, etc. to pressurize customers into buying. We don't have to feel pressurized to buy anything (even if there are three to four salesperson hogging to talk to us at one time). Don't feel bad about wasting anyone's time or effort. Just say, "I will consider". Never be FRIENDLY! We are not going to Sim Lim to make friends! Don't let our friendliness be our Achilles' heel.
  9. Upon inspection of the item and deemed satisfactory by the potential buyer, this item is then swapped/switched during transit from customer's hand to the cashier. When the buyer realize this, some might have already boarded their flight and heading back to their country. An easy prey would be those buyers who disclosed to the salesperson that the item purchase is "actually a gift for someone" (which will only be opened by that person).
  10. Misled buyers into buying "cheaper alternatives" that ends up useless, below par, defective product. For example, buyers being misled into buying "generic" camera lenses (instead of original) that end up having super blurry effect. Worst, the alternative is way cheaper than a factor of five elsewhere, e.g. sold SGD500 when it could be bought at SGD100.
  11. Overpriced in-house warranty being hard sold to buyers. Sometimes, buyers are tricked into signing a contract for this useless item (without proper consent). It is akin to installing freeware in which the installer tricks user into opting-in for all the bloatwares.

What you can do:
  1. Don't go down silently, file a complaint with Sim Lim Square and Consumers Association of Singapore. Write a review on TripAdvisor, Google, Straits Times newspaper, Stomp, Singapore Tourism Board (hotline from 9am to 6 pm 1800-736 2000), or blog it. You will need the receipt and other necessary information for the above action.
  2. If you have not parted money or signed your credit card bill, because you are surprised by the amount stated on the bill, you have the right to void the deal. That is when your lack of FRIENDLINESS and SMILE comes into play. You don't have to explain, but if you want to, just say "the price is not right".
  3. Visit the place with someone. Let the other person be the "bad guy" who will spoil the deal by saying, "I don't like it, let us go elsewhere". You will be the person who will ask about the product, the price, the promotion, the freebies etc. while your friend will pull you out from the deal if you give the right signal to abort. If the salesperson insist on knowing why, just say that the item is a gift for someone and my friend knows best! Just leave the place if the salesperson is still persistent.
  4. Don't pay in cash. Allow all transactions to be paid by credit card. If the salesperson take your money, it will be very difficult to get it back if the deal turn bad. At least by credit card, you are well protected.
  5. Get the product first with warranty before making payment. Trust goes both ways, and the shopper should ready the item and place them in front for you to inspect and ready to take away before you part your money. Allow the time you part your money/make payment the very last step of the deal/transaction, just right before the "thank you and bye bye". If there is any "activation" or "messaging" craps, just withhold the payment until that is settled. Keep your card/money until the "activities" stop and your product is finalized and ready-to-go before making payment.
  6. Don't sign any paper/invoices/contracts until you get the final bill. Even after getting the final bill, always be very reluctant to sign anything, except for the credit card bill. There is no logic in signing anything extra.
  7. If you can't find any review about a shop on TripAdvisor, tread with caution because name changing by shoppers is as easy as paying SGD 26.75. This suggest that the bad press associated with the shop name can be removed by changing to a new name for the shop. Refer to Asiaone news on "Shamed Sim Lim Square retailers change signboards".
  8. If you refused to pay and being held hostage, CALL THE POLICE (999). Don't pay, just get "arrested" (or rather, rescued) for "failure to purchase at Sim Lim Square".
  9. Ask for refund if you felt that the item was not what you wanted (or defective). Shops that carried the Staretailer are obligated to refund buyers if they are not satisfied with the purchase (or the price sold to them are higher than it is supposed to be). See Staretailer pledges.

Safety nets:
  1. Contact Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) at +6561000315 (hotline) for assistance and enquiry.
  2. Call Sim Lim Square office at +6563383859 for assistance if you are in a predicament at one of the stores
  3. Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) & Lemon Law.
  4. Call the police @ 999. Police are not authorized to force business owners to refund money paid by buyers. However, the police surely is able to help customers to leave the shop without being forced to pay (especially if customers are being held hostage). Hence, buyers should not part their money easily except until they received their items in good order and receiving the final itemized bill for the payment.
Just a thought.

 Great references

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