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March 26, 2014

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Dianping users angry over missing refunds

LEADING restaurant guide and lifestyle website has come under fire following a surge in complaints about its group-buying deals, the Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission said yesterday.

In the year through Sunday, the commission received 182 complaints about the site, an increase of 273 percent from the same period of last year, it said.

About 40 percent of the complaints were from people saying they had been refused refunds on expired coupons.

In one case, a woman said she was unable to get her money back on a coupon for a stay at budget hotel chain Motel 168, while another customer made a similar complaint after trying to claim a refund on a voucher for a trip to a hot spring.

In a separate incident, a Jiangsu police officer surnamed Chen said he paid 100 yuan (US$16.12) for four movie ticket vouchers from the website last October. After using two, he tried to get his money back on the others, but the company rejected his claim.

“Dianping didn’t lose out, because I didn’t use the coupons. So why can’t I get my money back?” Chen said.

The commission said the contracts Dianping has with its partner companies mean that the website profits if the coupons go unused.

“This kind of practice is dishonest and unfair to consumers,” said Tang Jiansheng, deputy secretary-general of the commission.

Another common complaint received this year regarded Dianping’s apparent failure to carry out proper checks on the restaurants included in its various deals.

A woman surnamed Sun said that in January she paid 28 yuan for two meals at a cafe in Beijing. But when she tried to visit the place, based on the address provided on the website, she couldn’t find it.

Neither did anyone answer the telephone when she called the published number.

It was not until mid-March that Dianping admitted that the cafe had closed down.

The consumer rights commission said the company should not have sold coupons for the cafe as it did not even have a business license.

In its defense, Dianping said its policy was to include businesses that were in the process of applying for a license.

Also on the subject of food, many people complained about the discrepancies between the items promoted on the website and the products they actually received.

In one instance, people complained after booking meals at a restaurant that they were told offered a wide range of seafood and vegetables. In actual fact they were served frozen fish balls and just two types of vegetables.

Changing lanes

Dianping was also accused of randomly changing the details of some of its promotions.

A man surnamed Quan said that on Sunday he paid 6,900 yuan for three tickets for this year’s Shanghai Formula One Grand Prix.

But yesterday he was told by Dianping the deal was no longer available and that his money would be refunded.

Quan complained to the commission and asked the website to honor the contract or pay him compensation.

In another case, a woman  said she was told the coupon she bought in January for a stay at Hanting Inns & Hotels had been canceled before the stated expiry date. Dianping paid her just 10 yuan compensation on top of her refund.

When asked to comment, Dianping said in a statement yesterday that it had already dealt with 97 percent of the grievances and would handle the remainder before the end of the month.

It said that while refunds are available on 98 percent of its group deals, they are not offered on all, and that this is clearly stated on the booking page for each product or service. All of the people who complained to the commission, however, said they were certain the deals they paid for came with a refund.

Dianping also said it will improve its review procedures and any company that is found to have provided misleading information about its products will be removed from the website.


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