Shopping smart in the virtual world
Lim Siew May 
As online shopping becomes more popular, it pays to learn how to shop smart in the virtual world – 123RF
ONLINE shopping is more convenient and typically cheaper than buying from a brick-and-mortar store. Hence, it is no wonder that Malaysians are spending more than ever on e-commerce platforms.

iPay88, which manages some 70% of online payment gateway systems in Malaysia, observes that the number of online transactions surged by 161% last year over the previous year, rising from 14.6 million transactions in 2015 to 38.2 million.

As online shopping becomes more popular, it pays to learn how to shop smart in the virtual world – be it buying genuine and quality products, as well as getting the best value for your hard-earned money. Three e-commerce players and an avid shopper share how consumers can become savvier when shopping in the virtual world.

Pay attention to customer reviews

One of the key concerns of any online shopper is that the product you are acquiring may not be authentic. To mitigate this risk, start by conducting simple due diligence on the seller you are about to buy from. This would include reading previous customers’ comments and checking their store ratings.

CJ Yoon, chief operating officer of 11street Malaysia, says customer reviews and store ratings are important for potential buyers to gather crucial insights about a store owner’s behaviour. “By reading the seller’s response to customer enquiries, potential buyers not only get to know more about the product features, they also learn about the product quality, warranty guarantee and its origins,” he says.

He adds one should have a closer look at negative reviews and the way they were handled by sellers. Doing so will give you some insights into their level of confidence towards their own products and its quality of customer service, he says.

Verification of documents

To gain more assurance, Yoon adds that buyers may also request for verification of documents such as authorisation licence, product certification from seller to verify the product authenticity. “Most marketplaces like 11street, we have a user-friendly product Q&A column that allows buyers to post such questions to check on product authenticity,” he says.

“As the last resort, consumers may contact the Customer Service Department via phone or email to check on the products that they are keen to purchase.”

A decent number of high ratings and good product reviews would usually indicate a product’s quality and authenticity, says Ho

Like other e-commerce players, Ian Ho, regional managing director of online marketplace Shopee, agrees that customer reviews and store ratings are big indicators of product quality and authenticity. A decent number of high ratings and good product reviews would usually indicate a product’s quality and authenticity.

In some cases, counterfeit products may even be pointed out by other sharp buyers in the review section, he adds.

Purchase from the original store

Another way to ensure that you are buying quality or authentic goods is by getting them from the official store on the e-commerce platforms.

At Shopee, buyers can look for a “Preferred Seller” or an “Official Shop” tag on the product listing for greater peace of mind, says Ho. “Preferred Sellers are sellers who have maintained an excellent record in the areas of customer experience and fulfilment, while Official Shops are storefronts operated by principal brands or major retailers themselves,” he explains.

Indeed, aside from buying from non-official sellers with good reputation, Ho believes that a sure way to find genuine and quality products online would be buying from the brands themselves.

“We see an increasing trend of brand owners and large physical retailers setting up official shops on Shopee. To-date, we have over 160 official shops on Shopee, including household names like Watsons, Unilever, Nestle, Senheng, Huawei, Oppo, L’Oreal and many more. Just look out for the red “Official Shop” tag,” Ho says.

He observes that many of these brands are becoming increasingly savvy in running promotions and allocating an assortment of products across e-commerce platforms. And for the bargain hunters out there, this leads you to Ho’s next tip – which is to look out for special online promotions/flash sales and plan your purchases accordingly.

“These seasonal sales usually coincide with festivities like Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Merdeka, etc. Here on Shopee, in addition to festive sales, we run a daily curated flash sale called the “Shocking Sale”, which features exciting products at shockingly low prices that are refreshed daily,” says Ho. He adds Shopee is also preparing for its upcoming 9.9 Online Shopping Day, where buyers can take advantage of promotions, discounts, exciting product listings and other exclusive perks.

Lazada Malaysia hires a quality control  team that vets through all the products sold by its merchants, says Ressel

Similarly, Lazada Malaysia CEO Hans-Peter Ressel notes its customers have transformed from deal-hunters to brand-savvy consumers.

Lazada Malaysia has responded to this phenomenon by partnering with top brands, including Microsoft, Samsung, L’Oreal, Laneige, Levi’s, all of which have an online store on Lazada Malaysia.

The implication? Customers can be 100% assured that they are purchasing authentic and quality products from the e-commerce platform, he says.

Buy from trustworthy sites

11street Malaysia’s Yoon believes consumers should shop from reliable sites offering full information on sellers, and also customer service support that is reachable via email and phone. He cautions against purchasing from a random website that sends you spam email. “Remember to verify the seller before any purchase and never follow links from dubious sources,” he adds.

Also, be cautious when direct cash payment to seller is the only payment method, says Yoon. “This is a major warning sign that online fraudsters might have targeted you.

“Legitimate online marketplaces and sellers usually offer different payment methods, including secured credit card payment, cash deposit at an ATM or bank transfer, which the seller’s service is verified by respective authorities,” he says.

How e-commerce stores filter their partner merchants

EVER wondered what kind of due diligence e-commerce stores undertake when filtering the authenticity and quality of products sold by their merchant partners? Two of Malaysia’s most popular e-commerce stores spill the beans.

Lazada Malaysia

CEO Hans-Peter Ressel says the e-commerce platform hires a quality control (QC) team that vets through all the products being sold by its merchants. Lazada Malaysia is part of Lazada Group, which runs online shopping and selling in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Any products suspected to be non-genuine are flagged and highlighted, says Ressel. On that note, it also uses technology to attribute certain keywords that would flag the QC team to ask sellers for further document or authenticity checks.

Next, all sellers are required to go through an onboarding process that requires them to attend training in person or webinars, where they are educated on the list of prohibited items and ensure they upload products matching Lazada’s requirements.

Lastly, when Lazada receives a customer complaint on counterfeit items, their case will be immediately escalated to a dedicated “SWAT” team. “This SWAT team will investigate the customer’s product and escalate this to the marketplace merchant and request for certificate of authenticity. 

“Should the item prove to be a fake or non-genuine, and there is no response from the seller within 48 hours, the customer is immediately refunded and the merchant would be blacklisted,” says Ressel.

11 street Malaysia

Yoon says Interested merchant partners who submit an application to sell on 11street will find themselves at the centre of a thorough screening process

According to chief operating officer CJ Yoon, interested merchant partners who submit an application to sell on 11street will find themselves at the centre of a thorough screening process. 11street Malaysia is an open marketplace run by Celcom Planet Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between Celcom Axiata Bhd and South Korea’s SK Planet Ltd.

“We will ask a series of questions to verify the identity of the potential seller as well as their product origins and authenticity, which requires the latter to produce documents that attest to their existence,” he says.

Upon approval, 11street will carry out consistent scrutinising to ensure the sellers actually sell the products they have registered. This serves as a means to vet through sellers who may, at some point, fall off course and decide to challenge the system, says Yoon.

Of hindrance to 11street’s due diligence process is some buyers’ preference to make an online purchase anonymously, which may be one of the major deterrents for the marketplace player to contact them immediately in the event of a suspicious transaction or non-genuine item(s) purchased, Yoon points out.

As such, buyers are advised to provide accurate information for the e-mall to safeguard the interest of their accounts. 

Confessions of a savvy e-shopper

LYN Ng, a communications consultant of cashback platform ShopBack, has been an avid online shopper since 2008. 

With online shopping, it's easy to gather and make price comparisons online, plus the items will be sent to my doorstep, says Ng

She buys a diverse range of products online, ranging from home items such as paintings to bed sheets, electronic items, skincare products, groceries as well as flight tickets and accommodation.

“Basically, if I can get something online, I will,” says Ng, who makes online purchases around three times per month. 

“It’s easy to gather and make price comparisons online, plus the items will be sent to my doorstep. I don’t have time to go to offline shops due to work and I hate both traffic jam and human traffic jam. Parking rate in malls is not cheap, and it’s not that safe when you are out alone with two handfuls of goods,” she explains.

Like many people, Ng isn’t immune to purchasing counterfeit products from unscrupulous sellers. Once, she bought half a dozen bottles of body lotion from an online marketplace, only to find out that they weren’t genuine, and that the seller ignored her complaint.

Separating wheat from chaff

Having learnt her lessons over the years as an online shopper, Ng has a few tips on how to be a savvier e-shopper. When deciding on an item, she factors in the price and reputation of the store and seller, whether the item comes with a warranty, as well as analysing the photos and reviews from customers.

After she decides on buying a product, she will normally go to online stores that may carry the product and start comparing its pricing and seller/store ratings on various platforms. 

“After locking down the top three choices, I will see if there are photos taken by previous customers, view a few photos ranging from different months and years, and check if the product sold is in good shape, of the right colour and looks authentic,” she says, adding there are online tutorials teaching customers how to differentiate counterfeit and genuine products.

Ng will also run a desktop search to detect possible complaints against the seller. She observes that sellers tend to market their products in more than one online store, and their ratings and reviews might be inconsistent across all stores. 

“For some products, especially skincare and IT gadgets, I have friends who are very experienced in getting good stuff online, so they are my go-to persons for advice,” she adds.

Personally, she does not trust a product that comes with a ridiculously cheap price tag. “It is always a counterfeit product unless it is sold by the manufacturer, not a third party,” she says.

She trusts online beauty stores like Hermo and Althea, which have genuine product guarantees, but when purchasing from e-commerce platforms that feature third-party retailers like Lazada and 11street, she always opts for products that come with original manufacturer warranty.

When buying from Chinese online shopping website Taobao, she stresses the importance of checking customer reviews. “The cheapest, second and third cheapest products may all have the same product description, but there must be a reason why the cheapest item is being sold dirt cheap. Don’t take the risk if you notice nearly half of its comments are just ‘OK’ without any elaboration on the goods received,” she cautions.

Interestingly, while she will buy from a store with a high rating of 95% and above, she is sceptical of online stores that have amassed what she feels are impossibly high positive ratings of 99% or 100%. “You may have heard of how some Taobao sellers spend money to get ‘five-star comments’. My rationale is that no seller can please all customers, so I’d rather avoid this kind of seller,” she explains.

Getting the best value

Avoiding dubious sellers and counterfeit products aside, being a savvy shopper also entails knowing how to stretch your ringgit. Ng reminds shoppers to take shipping/delivery fee into consideration when making a purchase – after all, it adds up to your total cost of purchase. Also, check out special online events that online stores or cashback platforms like ShopBack promote, she adds.

“Typically, there’ll be sales and upsized cashback during all festivals like New Year and National Day or even weekends. During these times, the vouchers and cashback offers may double or triple. You can also enjoy special privileges if you own a certain credit or debit card,” she adds. 

What to do when you’re unhappy with your purchase

SOMETIMES, despite your best effort and the e-commerce platform’s initial filtering measures, you may still end up with a counterfeit product, or one that doesn’t measure up to its lofty claims and aesthetically pleasing pictures.

What’s a shopper supposed to do in this situation? 

If you buy from respectable virtual retailers, they would offer different shopper protection measures.

Lazada Malaysia, for instance, offers 100% Buyer Protection and/or Satisfaction Guarantee for all its items. Depending on the applied Return Policy (represented by the logo on the item’s page), you may return your item within seven or 14 calendar days, starting from the date you receive the item to the post-stamp date on the return parcel.

Customers have the options to return the products to Lazada’s parcel delivery and collection services partners such as Pos Laju, Mail Boxes Etc, Collectco and BOXiT outlets.

Escrow system

Meanwhile, Shopee regional managing director Ian Ho says it also has a buyer protection measure called the Shopee Guarantee, which ensures that a seller only receives payment from Shopee when the product has been received and acknowledged by the buyer.

“This protects buyers in the event of not receiving the products they bought, receiving an incorrect product from what was listed, such as wrong size, different colour and beyond, or receiving a damaged or faulty product,” he explains.

Similarly, 11street deploys the escrow system to oversee all its purchases and return policy, says CJ Yoon, COO of 11street Malaysia. The system enables buyers to return their purchases within a reasonable time, and disperses payment to sellers only upon the buyers’ purchase confirmation on the 11street website, which means that buyers have acknowledged receiving genuine items or items in good condition.

“If the buyers receive the wrong products, non-genuine products or products with defects, usually within seven days, buyers may request for a return from the sellers through the 11street online marketplace, or contact our customer service for assistance. Furthermore, buyers are allowed to choose their preferred refund method. The processing normally takes between two and 14 working days,” Yoon adds.

While there is a safety net for buyers, Ho is a strong believer that prevention is better than cure. “Always check the product listing for negative reviews or ratings, and remember to always double-check on any online deal that appears too good to be true,” he cautions. 

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 245.