The newly amended Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Consumers’ Rights and Interests (hereinafter referred to as the “Consumer Law”) has been formally implemented on March 15, 2014. As the first amendment of this law in the past 20 years, this amendment has received wide public attention. Among the revisions, provisions of online shopping, especially the “right to regret” which grants consumers rights to return of goods via online shopping within 7 days upon receipt without providing reasons, is considered to be a highlight one.
In Western countries, the right to regret is also called a cooling-off period. This right allows consumers to unilaterally terminate the contracts with the business operators, protecting consumers from suffering by information asymmetry during the transactions. Notably, in spite of the fact that usually consumers have less bargaining power, protecting the consumers by the Consumer Law does not imply excessive judicial inclination. Therefore, the right to regret clause does not overprotect the consumers. The following is a brief analysis of the newly added Article 25 of the Consumer Law that regulates right to regret in online shopping:
1. The scope of application of the right to regret is limited.
Firstly, the goods applicable to the right to regret are those purchased via the Internet, or by telephone, television, mail order, etc..
Secondly, Article 25 explicitly provides 4 exceptions that the right to regret are not available: (1)tailor-made goods; (2)fresh and perishable goods; (3) audio-visual products, computer software and other digital products that are downloaded by the consumers online or whose packages have been unsealed by the consumers；(4) delivered newspapers and periodicals.
Thirdly, Article 25 provides a saving clause: “return of goods without reason shall not be applicable to other goods for which the return thereof is not suitable as determined by their nature and as confirmed by consumers upon purchase.” This clause is to limit malicious abuses of the right to regret. Although Article 25 was deemed as controversial during the amendment drafting, it was retained in the final version. However, due to the ambiguous classification of the goods that cannot be returned, this clause may arise disputes in practice. Therefore, the clause needs to be clarified in relevant judicial interpretations in the future.
Moreover, Article 25 provides that “the transportation costs for returning the goods shall be borne by the consumers, unless otherwise agreed upon between the business operators and the consumers.” Such provision also limits the abuse of right to regret.
2. The way to exercise the right to regret remains unclear.
The amended Consumer Law does not provide a mode of exercise for the right to regret. In online shopping, consumers may conclude the transactions with the business operators completely via Internet directly (i.e. instant messaging platforms, etc.). However, whether the right to regret can also be exercised in the same way is not explicit. In light of its normativeness and seriousness as a statutory right, consumers should notify the operators in writing while exercising his right to regret.
Although the regulations of the right to regret in online shopping of the amended Consumer Law still needs perfection, consider the fact that China’s online shopping business is growing rapidly while the relevant legislation is seriously lagging behind; therefore, promulgating this amendment is still a big leap. This amended law will not only protect the rights of the consumers in online shopping, but also benefit the establishment of a fair-trade online market.