Hong Kong customs officers have arrested the operator of a popular online store for baby products after hundreds of parents complained they had not received diapers ordered despite paying for vouchers in advance.
Customs on Wednesday said it had received reports from customers who alleged the diaper retailer was selling vouchers through social media platforms but failed to deliver the products within the specified date or in a reasonable time.
No refunds were arranged either, a customs spokesman said.
A source close to the investigation said more than 200 complaints had been received.
An investigation led to the arrest of the 46-year-old operator the same day. He was later released on bail pending further inquiries.
The shop involved was Baby-clan.com in Tuen Mun, the Post learned. Its website and contact telephone number were not working on Wednesday.
A message on its Facebook page said: “Our company will be conducting annual internal inventory and arranging for product delivery, the office will be closed for member or non-member inquiries and visits on May 18 and 19. Customers can still make inquiries through Facebook private messages or emails.”
The shop, which was popular with new parents because of its cheap prices, was run by the man and his wife, the Post learned.
According to a customer, the shop had been selling vouchers for around HK$60 each for some time.
Each coupon allowed customers to get a pack of diapers costing as much as HK$140 in pharmacies by paying an extra HK$10 to HK$20, depending on the brand. Voucher prices could fall or rise to HK$100 but the additional charge stayed the same.
But a rule change in March sparked an uproar when the shop raised the extra price per pack to more than HK$20 for some brands, the customer said.
The company later withdrew the increase, but the rise had sparked panic among customers.
The firm said in a Facebook post on Saturday that it had been doing its best to make deliveries over the past two months in an unprecedented situation which it likened to a “bank run”.
“But the quantity is really too large, much greater than our regular weekly shipment volume, and transport is also becoming an issue,” it said.
Betty Andrade, mother of a 10-month-old, still held 20 vouchers and was waiting on a delivery ordered in March.
“I think the original voucher redemption worked fine before the incident [delayed deliveries], and the company was able to deliver on what they sold, so the transactions were fair and square,” she said.
“But after the public relation incident, they still continued to sell vouchers despite not being able to deliver on their goods promptly, and that’s a big issue, which definitely justifies the arrest.”
Some mothers gathered on Tuesday afternoon outside the Tuen Mun office of the shop looking for their orders but were told there was no stock. They also asked for refunds and the staff called in police to handle the dispute.
Under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, it is an offence if at the time of the acceptance of payment, a trader intends not to supply the product or to supply a materially different product, or there are no reasonable grounds for believing the trader will be able to supply the product within a specified or reasonable period.
The maximum penalty upon conviction is five years’ jail and a HK$500,000 fine.
The Customs and Excise Department also reminded consumers who bought products in presale mode to be aware of the risks involved.
The department was expected to provide more details of the operation on Thursday.