Online Shopping in China: New Laws to Enhance Consumer Protections

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China has introduced comprehensive regulations to address consumer protection issues in the burgeoning online marketplace. Announced in March by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), these regulations come into effect today, aiming to safeguard consumer rights and enhance the online shopping experience by tackling prevalent issues in e-commerce.

The regulations include measures to combat fraudulent practices, such as prohibiting vendors from forging business data and user evaluations. This measure seeks to curb the growing problem of fake reviews and misleading business practices that deceive consumers. Additionally, the regulations prevent unfair sales practices by banning the promotion of bundled sales and the use of big data to enable price discrimination. This ensures that consumers are not unfairly charged different prices for the same products or services without their knowledge.

A significant aspect of the new regulations is the management of subscriptions. Vendors are now required to notify consumers before automatically renewing subscriptions or services, ensuring transparency and giving consumers control over their subscriptions. The regulations also mandate a no-hassle return policy, allowing consumers to return products more easily and reducing the risk of disputes between consumers and vendors.

To further protect consumers, operators are required to establish effective mechanisms for resolving disputes that arise from live streaming sales. This includes prohibiting misleading practices such as fabricating reviews or hiding negative feedback. The new regulations address several emerging issues in online consumption, including big data-driven price discrimination, fake reviews, unfair terms and conditions, prepaid-card infringement, and the excessive collection of consumer information. For instance, the regulations prohibit differentiated pricing for the same product or service without consumers’ knowledge, ensuring fair pricing practices.

As of the end of 2023, China had over 900 million online shoppers, with online retail sales of physical goods comprising 27.6% of the country’s total retail sales. These statistics highlight the significance of e-commerce in China’s economy and the importance of robust consumer protection regulations. Moving forward, the SAMR plans to collaborate with other departments to continuously address potential issues in online consumption and optimize the consumer protection environment.

These new regulations reflect China’s commitment to fostering a fair and transparent online market, enhancing consumer trust, and ensuring a balanced relationship between consumers and businesses. By addressing key issues such as price discrimination, fake reviews, and subscription management, the regulations aim to create a safer and more reliable online shopping environment for China’s vast number of internet users. Through these measures, China seeks to build a marketplace where consumer rights are prioritized, and trust in e-commerce is strengthened, paving the way for sustainable growth in the digital economy.