Subject: economic development

E-consumer protection in Hong Kong

Concerns over shopping online

E-consumer protection in the United Kingdom

Pre-purchase stage

  • Transaction information: CCRs require online sellers to provide e-consumers with sufficient information for making informed purchase decisions through the Internet. The required information include (a) product information such as a description of the goods or services, the price (including taxes), details of any delivery costs and the arrangement for delivery; (b) identity of sellers and contact details; and (c) information about cancellation rights and goods return/refund policy. Sellers who fail to provide the required information will leave them open to having to refund the customers.
  • Fair contract terms: CRA further prohibits online sellers from imposing "unfair" contract terms on e-consumers. A term in a consumer contract will be defined by CRA as unfair if it "causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer". Following the finding of use of an unfair term, the regulator(s) may apply to a court for an injunction to restraint further use of an unfair term.

Purchase stage

After-purchase stage

E-consumer protection in South Korea

Alternative dispute resolution mechanism

Concluding remarks

  • While online shopping brings convenience to e-consumers, the distant nature of transacting online has led to challenges pertaining to consumer protection, particularly at the "purchase" and "post-purchase" stages of an online transaction. However, there is currently no specific legislation regulating online retail business in Hong Kong. TDO and SGO are generic consumer protection laws protecting general consumers against unfair trade practices. In this connection, e-consumer protection regimes are more robust in the UK and South Korea with (a) the enactment of specific legislation to protect e-consumers; (b) the establishment of mandatory cooling-off period and customer-friendly goods return/refund policy; and (c) the use of low-cost ADR platform to settle e-commerce disputes.

Prepared by Gary NG
Research Office
Information Services Division
Legislative Council Secretariat
11 June 2020


1.With online shopping, customers can choose from a wider range of products supplied by a variety of online retailers. In particular, they are no longer limited to shops nearby and can even buy from abroad online. Online shopping also benefits retailers by allowing them access to a wider pool of customers as online sale can take place at any time during the day. Added to this, retailers are no longer constrained by the geographical limitations of physical stores as they can sell their products locally as well as overseas through online channels.

2.See eMarketer (2019).

3.See Census and Statistics Department (2020a).

4.According to EcommerceBytes (2019), e-commerce sales have an average return rate of 30% compared with 8%-10% for physical stores.

5.See World Economic Forum (2019).

6.A leading local online retailer received an average of 32 600 orders per day in February 2020, representing a 165% increase from that of 12 300 a year-earlier period. See Lung (2020).

7.The Trade Descriptions Ordinance prohibits specified unfair trade practices deployed by traders against consumers, including false trade descriptions, misleading omissions, aggressive commercial practices, bait advertising, bait-and-switch and wrongly accepting payment. The Sale of Good Ordinance provides that goods for sale must be of satisfactory quality, fit for their intended purposes and must correspond with the descriptions or sample.

8.According to Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (2019), cooling-off period refers to the period of time following conclusion of a contract whereby a supplier allows its customers to unilaterally cancel the contract without having to provide a reason. Following contract cancellation, the supplier needs to refund the amount paid by the customer and the customer's other payment obligations in the contract are also cancelled.

9.In January 2019, the Government conducted a three-month public consultation to solicit public views on a proposal to stipulate a statutory cooling-off period for beauty and fitness services consumer contracts. Depending on the outcome of the public consultation, the Government aims to introduce the relevant bill into the Legislative Council in the 2019-2020 legislative session. See GovHK (2019).

10.In 2018-2019, the Consumer Council received 4 795 complaints related to online shopping, representing an increase of 54.6% over 2016-2017. See Consumer Council (2017) and (2019a).

11.By taking advantage of the tight supply of face masks and sanitizing products, consumers had been requested to pay in advance before the goods were received. In the first quarter of 2020, the Consumer Council received over 760 complaints relating to these transactions, mainly related to late delivery and refund disputes. Meanwhile, the Police reportedly received about 1 800 cases of face mask scams as at 20 April 2020, involving 3 900 victims and HK$56 million. See Consumer Council (2020) and The Standard (2020).

12.During August-September 2019, the Consumer Council shopped with nine online shopping platforms to evaluate their quality in handling purchase orders, product delivery, goods return and refund as well as customer services.

13.See Consumer Council (2019b) and (2020).

14.According to the 2019 survey, the Consumer Council made 54 purchases from nine online shopping platforms. The success rate for the staff of the Consumer Council to apply for the goods purchased to be returned or to obtain a refund from online shopping platforms was lower than 50%. In addition, the deadlines for goods return varied among the online shopping platforms surveyed, ranging from seven days to 90 days after the products were duly received. See Consumer Council (2019b).

15.See Ofcom (2019).

16.The proportion of UK Internet users who had purchased online within the last 12 months stood at a high of 87% in 2019. See European Commission (2020).

17.See eMarketer (2019).

18.CCRs define distance contract as a contract concluded between a trader and a consumer under an organized distance sales or service-provision scheme without the simultaneous physical presence of the trader and the consumer, with the exclusive use of one or more means of distance communication up to and including the time at which the contract is concluded. See (2013).

19.The cooling-off period is not applicable to certain products or services such as contracts with value less than £42 (HK$404); goods which will deteriorate or expire rapidly; newspapers and magazines; and bespoke and customized goods.

20.A refund must be given without undue delay, and in any event within 14 days beginning with the day on which the seller agrees that the consumer is entitled to a refund.

21.If the e-consumer is outside the 30-day right to reject, he or she has to give the retailer one opportunity to repair or replace any goods which are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as described. If the goods cannot be repaired or replaced, the e-consumer can claim a refund or price reduction should he or she wish to keep the goods.

22.According to Info Cubic (2019), online shopping is popular in South Korea where 88.5% of the country's population used e-commerce platforms in 2019.

23.While e-consumers can terminate their online orders without any conditions, cancellation is not permitted where (i) the goods are destroyed or damaged by the e-consumer; (ii) the value of the goods is significantly diminished by the use or partial consumption by the e-consumer, or by the lapse of time; (iii) the packaging materials of certain goods are damaged; and (iv) the provision of any services or digital content has commenced.

24.The E-Commerce Mediation Committee is composed of experts and representatives from legal, academic, business, and consumer organizations specializing in e-documents and e-transactions. The committee members are appointed by the Minister of Science and ICT.


Hong Kong

1.Census and Statistics Department. (2014) Report on the Survey on Information Technology Usage and Penetration in the Business Sector for 2013.

2.Census and Statistics Department. (2020a) Report on the Survey on Information Technology Usage and Penetration in the Business Sector for 2019.

3.Census and Statistics Department. (2020b) Thematic Household Survey Report No. 69.

4.Commerce and Economic Development Bureau. (2019) Public Consultation Paper on Statutory Cooling-Off Period: For Beauty and Fitness Services Consumer Contracts.

5.Community Legal Learning Centre. (Undated) The Sale of Goods Ordinance.

6.Consumer Council. (2016) Online Retail - A Study on Hong Kong Consumer Attitudes, Business Practices and Legal Protection.

7.Consumer Council. (2017) Annual Report 2016-2017.

8.Consumer Council. (2018) A Report to Advocate Mandatory Cooling-Off Period in Hong Kong.

9.Consumer Council. (2019a) Annual Report 2018-2019.

10.Consumer Council. (2019b) Online Shopping Platforms Survey: Claims on Goods Return Not Guaranteed with Less than 50% Success Rate in Purchase Trials.

11.Consumer Council. (2020) Beware of Scams on Social Platforms amid the Epidemic Outbreak Be Rational When Purchasing Online to Prevent Irretrievable Loss.

12.GovHK. (2019) Public consultation on statutory cooling-off period for beauty and fitness services consumer contracts launched.

13.South China Morning Post. (2019) Hong Kong's Consumer Council urges e-commerce platforms to make it easier for online shoppers to return goods, obtain funds.

14.The Standard. (2020) 31 nabbed over face masks scams.



16.eCommerceBytes. (2019) Product Returns: One Size Does Not Fit All.

17.eMarketer. (2019) Global Ecommerce 2019.

18.European Commission. (2020) E-commerce statistics for individuals.

19.House of Commons Library, UK Parliament. (2016) Sale of consumer goods services and digital content at a distance.

20.Info Cubic. (2019) How to Win the Hearts and Trust of Korean Consumers.

21.Korea Legislation Research Institute. (2016) Act on the Consumer Protection in Electronic Commerce.

22.Korea Ministry of Government Legislation. (Undated) Dispute Mediation Committee According to Area. (2013) Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulation 2013. (2015a) Consumer Rights Act 2015. (2015b) The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities) Regulations 2015.

26.Lung, T. (2020) HKTV Mall sets records as Hongkongers move online during coronavirus crisis.

27.Marson, J. & Ferris, K. (2016) Business Law.

28.Ministry of Strategy and Finance, Republic of Korea. (2016) Korea's E-Commerce Policy Experiences.

29.Ofcom. (2019) Online Nation 2019 Report.

30.UK Parliament. (2020) Consumer Rights Act 2015.

31.World Economic Forum. (2019) The Global Governance of Online Consumer Protection and E-commerce.

Essentials are compiled for Members and Committees of the Legislative Council. They are not legal or other professional advice and shall not be relied on as such. Essentials are subject to copyright owned by The Legislative Council Commission (The Commission). The Commission permits accurate reproduction of Essentials for non-commercial use in a manner not adversely affecting the Legislative Council. Please refer to the Disclaimer and Copyright Notice on the Legislative Council website at for details. The paper number of this issue of Essentials is ISE08/19-20.