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China’s e-commerce industry is known for its mega sales, with Alibaba and JD.com regularly posting new gross merchandise records year after year for events like Singles’ Day in November and the mid-year 618. Top shopping platforms exalt these consumption booms as a testament to their success and continued growth.
But lurking beneath the deluge of billions of transactions are unsatisfied customers who feel duped by misrepresented offers on Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, and other platforms. Driven by hypercompetition for consumers’ attention, some advertisers and merchants downright deceive customers to pump up sales numbers.
KrASIA analyzed nearly 1,000 entries on third-party consumer grievance site Blackcat and found that 55% of the complaints relating to the internet economy pointed to the e-commerce sector, far outstripping other areas.
Discounts, price guarantees, and rewards of free cash are often cloaked by restrictions and conditions that are buried in a mess of fine print. Attempts to reconcile incidents with customer service are often rejected, leaving a glut of frustrated customers.
The pressure on these companies to post impressive sales results is so great that e-commerce platform managers sometimes engage in anti-competitive practices under the weighty burden of sales quotas. During JD.com’s 618 event in 2019, appliance sellers called out Alibaba for trying to pressure merchants to exclusively sell on its platforms and forgo its rival’s shopping spree.
China’s ongoing antitrust campaign casts a shadow over this year’s shopping festivals, as e-commerce giants will be on their best behavior to avoid further penalties. While antitrust regulators eye how these sprawling online marketplaces wield their immense power, many consumers remain at the mercy of deceptive marketing without recourse.
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