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MANILA - As group buying sites sprout like mushrooms, complaints against their promos are mounting, with the Department of Trade and Industry warning consumers to exercise caution before subscribing to any online deals.
Online forums like pinoymoneytalk and several blogs have been chronicling consumer experiences with these group buying sites, and have noted a rise in the number of irate customers.
Group buying - also called crowd buying, social buying and collective buying - is an avenue for consumers to get big discounts because of the volume purchases. Merchants of these deals promise discounts of up to 70 percent if a certain number of customers avail of the same promotion.
Claudine at pinoymoneytalk related how she was duped when she bought 27 vouchers of a Bohol trip package for her entire family last year. Up until two months ago, she complained that a certain group buying site has not sent the tickets and hotel intinerary, even as the merchant canceled two days before the first date of the trip without telling her.
"I email[ed] and called the merchant halos araw araw hindi sila sumasagot or they kept promising next week next week book na daw kami. Ngayon 2 days to go wala pa din," Claudine said.
"Yung number and address ng merchant post ng [name of merchant] sa voucher nila is not true kaya hindi ko na alam kung pano hahabulin yung pera namin. Ang laki halaga pa naman," she added.
According to DTI Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya, one problem with group buying sites is few inform the customers if they are not able to meet the target volume needed to qualify for discounts.
"The obligation of the merchant is to tell you if they were able to meet the quota. So if they don't meet that in time, delayed ka ngayon," she said.
The merchant has to be straightforward with the customers and tell them that they were unable to meet the quota or move back the date of bookings, if these are for hotels and resorts, to give them more time to hit the quota.
"The problem is they don't even tell you. You keep on waiting and waiting while they give you so many excuses, yun pala hindi nila na-meet yung quota," Maglaya said.
She said it is important for consumers to see if these group buying sites and merchants have DTI permits. The agency can impose the rule or mechanics, particularly informing buyers how far these entities have gone in terms of getting the volume needed to avail of the discounts.
"They should inform you 'O, of the 20, we are already 15, five more to go.' In a way you are informed every step of the way because you already paid in advance, you have to reserve," Maglaya said.
If the merchants do not deliver, then the consumer can lodge a complaint with the DTI and go to court since these are criminal acts. Maglaya said these group buying sites have viol
ated the Consumer Act and the penalty can go as high as P300,000. Complainants can also sue these merchants for deception since they did not deliver the goods and services as advertised.
Maglaya said they already have several cases where the customers and the merchants finally face each other so the former can demand their money back.
Aside from violation of the Consumer Act and deception, these merchants are also liable if they are peddling these deals without DTI permits.
"If you have a permit, we know how to trace them. The problem with some of these merchants is that when you go and search for them, they can no longer be found, they cannot be reached, nobody's answering the numbers anymore," Maglaya said.
For group buying merchants that cannot be reached or traced, authorities and consumers can sue the website hosts since, according to Magalaya, they should have checked the legitimacy of these entities before hosting these online businesses.
"Our problem is for those sites or peddlers that we can't contact. In those cases, we already referred them to the Department of Justice to do the necessary investigation either through NBI or courts, and they are the ones who would do the searching for us. In fact, yung isa mukhang German pa, sabi namin meron dapat syang hold-departure order," the DTI official said.
To keep the number of these cases from mounting, the DTI will step up its monitoring and be more proactive. Maglaya also appealed to consumers to report suspicious merchants and always check if these are legitimate and have the necessary government permits.
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