JEDDAH: With the rise of online shopping in Saudi Arabia as an easier and faster way for people to get what they need, especially during these uncertain times, consumers’ rights have never been clearer.
Shopping online has gained a wider audience in the past few months due to the closure of stores during the coronavirus pandemic. But customers face difficulties due to delayed shipments, the delivery of faulty items, paying full price for packages with missing items and companies refusing to return shipments. These problems, and others, prove to be a major headache for shoppers.
The Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Investment (MCI) has set four recommendations to protect online consumers, informing them of their rights before purchasing items online and recommending them to purchase from online stores that have secured commercial registration numbers or are registered on the ministry’s e-commerce platform “Maroof.”
Consumers are allowed to cancel their orders and get a full refund when a shipment is delayed by more than 15 days. They have the right to return or exchange items purchased within seven days if they are unused, excluding items that have been specially designed or manufactured for the buyer. Food, vehicles and property are also excluded.
The ministry also says that online stores must inform buyers if there is a delay in shipment and must specify a deadline for the delivery of items.
Finally, consumers have 24 hours to make adjustments to their order if they notice a mistake in it through the online store’s official channels.
Private sector worker Zainab Mohammed was inconvenienced while shopping online from a large retail chain, which delayed her shipment for over two months. She had ordered the items before the full lockdown and the closure of all commercial activity in the Kingdom.
“I knew the implications of going to the store myself as we were recommended to stay indoors and only allowed out to shop for groceries at the time,” she told Arab News. “I didn’t find the need to go to a mall so I opted to shop online and the store emailed me a delivery date of two weeks after the initial purchase.”
The deadline came and went and she tried contacting their customer service over and over, emailing them at least 10 times to ask about her purchase. But there was no answer. “Delivery companies were hit hard at the time due to the lockdown but the relevant authorities provided them with the right permits to continue their deliveries, so there was no excuse,” she said. “A month passed and still no answer and I delayed making a complaint.”
She reached boiling point when, two months later, she had yet to receive a proper answer from the store. It insisted that the order was in between two shipping companies due to the disruption caused by the government stopping the services of their main delivery company.
“It was inexcusable. They refused to cancel my order, they declined to provide me with a delivery date and they also declined to provide me with a shipment number. I was sympathetic for a while due to the heavy load they faced, but I still have my rights and they took advantage of my silence, so I made an official complaint through the MCI’s application of a Commercial Violation Report.”
She filled in the complaint form and received her order within 72 hours. Online stores needed to understand that consumers had rights and that they (the stores) were not the only ones affected by the lockdown, she added. “A little understanding goes a long way but what they did was take advantage of the situation and abuse it,” she said, praising the ministry’s swift action.
Consumers can inquire about the use of the MCI’s services on its website or consumer call center on 1900.