DTI inutile in regulating Lazada and Shopee

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THE Trade and Industry department appears to be inutile in regulating the two biggest e-commerce platforms in the country, the Chinese-owned Lazada and the Singapore-based Shopee.

It is a disgrace to the country since, as I only discovered recently in the case of Lazada and reported in my Friday column, scammers and sellers of fake and pirated products populate this e-mall, and the company, owned by the billionaire Jack Ma through Alibaba, just ignores such problems.

That it is a concern for many Filipinos is indicated by the fact that my piece on this issue last Friday had the biggest number of readers of my column ever, estimated at about 80,000, as it became viral on social media. I had a deluge of comments relating in detail how they had bought products through Lazada which were fake, defective, or not delivered at all. Yet Lazada isn’t booting out thieves from their e-commerce platforms.

I have been an early user of e-commerce and imagined Lazada and Shopee to be the equivalent of amazon.com, which refunds customers complaining of undelivered or defective products without any question at all. Instead, the e-malls here are the digital version of a wild market in some poor country, where you’ll lose your wallet or cry over a useless product bought.

Manila_Mall

Case 1: I myself was scammed by a merchant claiming to be “Manila_MALL,” from which I bought a “Xiaomi Vacuum.” It wasn’t a Xiaomi (a reputable Chinese product) but an obviously cheap device with no brand. As if to mock me, it wasn’t even a vacuum cleaner but merely had tissue paper stuck on its bottom to “clean” the floor.

Lazada after several days refunded me, after I rejected their “suggestion” that I just return it and wrote my column. But did they boot out that scammer from the site? Nope. It hasn’t refunded me for another fake Xiaomi, a hand-held vacuum cleaner sold by a JJ71.

The scammer Manila_MALL is still there but is no longer selling fake Xiaomi products. It is now selling obviously fake signature perfumes (Jo Malone, Creed, Lanvin) which cost at least P5,000 but which Manila_MALL is selling at … P950!

A new product at this scammer’s site is a large inflatable swimming pool (3 x 1.8 m) which sells for at least P4,000 even at the popular Decathoon, but which it sells for — P95. There will be many lower-middle-class fathers looking forward to having a pool their children will love in this hot summer, who will just lose their hard-earned money.

This feature of scammers in Lazada — targeting the not-so-well-off — really gets my goat. It is heartbreaking for instance (an actual case) that a student who ordered a Pentel set for P200 — cheaper than at National Book Store’s P400 — only to have delivered to him a hand tissue worth P20, with Lazada reporting that the order had been delivered. You can call this “retailing scamming” targeting the poor.

The case of “Manila_MALL” points to the likelihood that these scammers are insiders working in Lazada, who know what the hot-selling products are at the moment (Xiaomi cleaners and inflatable swimming pools). They or their accomplices then pretend to be merchants selling these rip-offs. When there’s a complaint involving a particular product, they sell another different in-demand product (such as perfumes).

Lazada selling pirated books, mine!

Pirates

Case 2: This issue is obviously personal to me: Lazada has been selling pirated copies of my 2019 book “Debunked: Uncovering Hard Truths about EDSA, Martial Law, Marcos, Aquino, with a special section on the Duterte Presidency” and my 2022 “Debacle: The Aquino Regime’s Scarborough Fiasco and the South China Sea Arbitration Deception.” Not only that: it has been selling cheap PDF and epub versions that I had not authorized. Only amazon.com is authorized to sell digital copies of my books.

I suppose I should be flattered and happy since that’s another confirmation that my two books have been best-sellers, as I don’t know of any book written by a local author that’s being pirated and sold at Lazada. But it does mean taking away from me even the production costs for the books, even as I have yet to recover these expenses. More importantly, any book writer would have that very unpleasant feeling of being outrightly robbed.

And here’s another reason I am angry: Because Lazada has become a widely known e-mall and my “e-store” “rigobertotiglao.com/shop where I sell my books is comparatively obscure, those who have heard of my books check if it’s in Lazada, and buy it there thinking that’s the only place they can get it.

They find it and buy the two books even if the pirates are selling them at atrocious prices, “Debunked” for P2,636 (exclusive of shipping) and “Debacle” at P2,925, exclusive of shipping. These are sold on my website at P1,090, including shipping.

Despicable

What is so despicable about Lazada is that I had informed them over a year ago to stop selling pirated versions of my book. It ignored my plea.

On the other hand, I also had asked its rival Shopee the same thing. It removed the pirates and the copies of my books being sold at Shopee are by my duly authorized distributor with the Shopee merchant name All Must Go MNL168. (To counteract Lazada’s pirates, the books are now sold at all Fully Booked branches, “Debunked” at P899 and “Debacle” at P999.)

Even worse is that Lazada is not just selling pirated copies of my books, but those doing this are scammers. To find out what kind of pirated books were being delivered, I bought the cheapest copy at P99. Lazada reported it was delivered yesterday. It was not.

It gets worse, the store of my distributor at Shopee (All Must Go MNL168) — which even warned of “fake copies” — had its store copied and pasted by the pirates at Lazada.

While my books are the only ones being sold by pirates at Lazada stores, over 50,000 other books are apparently being sold by Lazada’s pirates. These are mostly the widely purchased books by Filipinos, such as help-yourself, do-it-yourself books, inspirational books. Just by the price alone, they’re obviously pirated books, or printed in other countries (Indonesia, I was told) without the real publishers’ authority. Fully Booked which has an official store at Shopee should complain as these criminals are reducing its sales.

Pirate’s haven

Because the Trade department hasn’t been monitoring Lazada and other e-commerce, our country is probably being transformed into a haven for pirated books.

I discuss only books because of my personal experience with my books. But books are among the cheapest items sold in Lazada, and it is reasonable to believe pirates are using other schemes with more expensive products.

In fairness, I have discovered more scams in Lazada than in Shopee, which may simply be due to the fact that I have used Lazada more than Shopee, as I was scammed first in the latter (three years ago) than in the former. Shopee then allowed a complete scammer to advertise his wares in its store. Shopee’s payment system is also clumsy, inexplicably not accepting credit card payments for some items.

However, Lazada has more scammers, likely the result of its looser procedures in taking in merchants in its frenzy to catch up with Shopee in terms of market share. Even as the DTI has pointed out that requirements for e-sellers are the same for regular brick-and-mortar merchants, Lazada requires of its sellers only a government-issued ID (which is easy to counterfeit, especially as this is transmitted to Lazada only electronically) and either a G-Cash account or “any bank account information,” according to its website.

Shopee vendors, on the other hand, are required to submit the BIR Certificate of Registration (Form 2303); mayor’s permit; DTI/SEC business registration certificate; registered official shop logo; collection receipt and invoice and for those selling brands; trademark/IP certification. This explains why so many Lazada vendors I checked had what seemed to be random-generated and nonsensical names.

Inutile

This column’s title accuses the DTI as inutile in clamping down on scammers and pirates in the e-malls, especially Lazada, mainly because it is practically invisible in this fast-growing billion-peso industry, with its small staff of 12, I was told, who all are apparently absorbed in drafting the “E-commerce Philippine Roadmap.”

In October 2022, DTI reported that in the nine months to September, complaints arising from online transactions totaled about 8,000. But has it reported if its office acted on these complaints? Absolutely nothing.

If they did anything, they would have reported it in the DTI section, E-commerce Section website: https://ecommerce.dti.gov.ph/news/https://ecommerce.dti.gov.ph/news/. Nothing there, with the latest news posted on Oct. 20, 2021 entitled ” DTI conducts public consultations for Online Businesses Guidelines.”

Other than begging these DTI bureaucrats to get off their asses and investigate Lazada to rid it of scammers and pirates, I would suggest at least the following moves to protect the growing e-commerce citizens.

1. Impose penalties on e-commerce companies for every instance of scams and sale of pirated products being sold on their platforms.

2. Require these to refund buyers within three days items sold by their vendors that are patently fake.

3. For the DTI to have a well-staffed section to receive and act on complaints involving e-commerce.

4. Require these companies to display prominently on their homepages the following announcement. “Complaints on your purchase may be forwarded to the DTI’s complaints section (telephone numbers and email addresses), and on this seller’s complaint section, through the following email…” These companies must be required to have user-friendly systems for filing requests for refunds and returns. That at Shopee is so confusing and tedious. Its request for a refund is buried in several steps.

5. Request Lazada headquarters to replace its CEO who runs its operations here, Carlos Otermin Barrera, a 33-year-old Spaniard who, because he mostly worked in Europe, obviously doesn’t grasp the intricacies and dangers of the e-commerce market in a developing country like the Philippines, which has, sad to say, residents who have very advanced skills in scamming as well as in internet technology. Barrera is obviously a babe in the woods, in the wild, wild internet jungle here.

My from-experience-advice to my readers: Stop your addiction to e-commerce, which in many ways is similar to credit-card buying addiction. If you can’t, always pay COD, and demand the product be opened first before you accept.

Of course, if many people do that, these e-malls would rack up huge additional costs — as the courier costs and back the customer returning a product would be unpaid for. But they deserve that.


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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dorina S. Rojas

    This is getting worse but thanks for the information, we will be more careful next time.

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