THE popularity of online shopping is growing here, and so is the number of complaints about unscrupulous online merchants.
Last year, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 41 complaints from consumers over online shopping, twice the number in 2009.
A common grouse among online shoppers is that of items arriving late, or not at all. Others complained about not getting refunds for defective goods or being sold counterfeit products.
Online stores, including blogshops, were the main culprits. There were no complaints about auction and group-buying websites.
While the number of complaints is small, Case executive director Seah Seng Choon warned that there could be many more consumers who have had trouble with online stores, but chose not to make a report.
'Even though there may be many consumers who shop online and have disputes with vendors, some of them may decide to drop the matter as the amount incurred is not huge,' he said.
'They may also see it as a lesson learnt and decide not to patronise the same blogshop or website again.'
Figures from research company Euromonitor International showed that customers here spent about $689 million online last year - 15 times more than in 1999. Last year's sum is expected to exceed $716 million.
The most popular items purchased online were clothing and footwear, as well as consumer electronics.
One obstacle in resolving online shopping disputes is the lack of details about the vendor, such as a name and address, said Mr Seah. Some of the vendors are also based overseas.
As a result, of the two cases that the consumer watchdog investigated last year, only one of them was resolved.
In June, a customer ordered a $28 dress from a website. The vendor informed her that it was out of stock, so she was asked to select another dress.
It was only in July that the vendor informed her that the other dress was also out of stock. They ignored her requests for a refund. It was only when Case stepped in that they sent the customer the dress.
The other case is still pending a resolution.
The other 39 complaints were classified as non-filed cases. In such cases, consumers approach Case for advice on how they can deal with the vendor and the laws that can protect them, but prefer to handle the cases on their own.
Ms Jasmine Chia, 36, is among those who have had a bad experience with online shopping.
Earlier this year, the property agent bought a $30 blouse from a local online store and was promised delivery within a week.
When she did not receive the item after two months, she sent an e-mail message to the store. But when they found out that they had sent it to the wrong address, they ignored her request for a refund or replacement.
She lodged a complaint with Case, but was told that it could not take any action against the online store as it was not a registered business.
'The only lucky thing is that the blouse cost only $30, but the incident really put me off online shopping,' she said, adding that it was her first time buying something online, and will be her last.
A shopping website, Ministry Of Retail, which sells Korean fashion items, said it handles about 300 to 500 orders each month, and one or two of them may get lost in the post.
Its spokesman said the business tries to minimise the number of lost items by sending them out with a return address, printing the exact addresses that customers have provided and using waterproof envelopes.
A few parcels may be delivered late because of mistakes in the address. The spokesman said that Singapore Post has recently started to reject and return such parcels, which adds to the delay.
'If the orders really can't be found, we'll work out something with the customers,' added the spokesman.
Case added that consumers should do their research before making any purchases. They should also be wary of companies that do not reveal their address and contact details.
In cases where bulky items, such as bags, are purchased from blogs, consumers should ask to meet up to receive the items, and pay up on the spot, rather than paying in full upon ordering the items.
If consumers suspect something is amiss, they should make a police report.