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China & Retail Consumer protection

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trash:
I was listening to The Amphour #539 and there was a passing mention by Dave about suing Chinese companies (1:08).
I bought one of the nice cheap Chinese off grid inverters as you do and as you might expect I don't have great expectations for them. The price offsets the risk (expectation) of failure. But I planned my purchase carefully as a test to see how much consumer protection Australians really get.

I bought the inverter online via ebay.com.au (Australian shop front) and chose a retailer that distributed from within Australia, paid with Australian dollars and I was charged Australian gst. They also offered a 12 month warranty and the company selling the inverter was based in Hong Kong, not that that makes a lot of difference.

So when the inverter did fail, actually sooner than I had expected though that itself did not come as a surprise, I decided to exercise my consumer protection rights under Australian law.  The first port of call is of course the seller who did communicate and paid me excellent lip service but had no intention of honoring their warranty or even Australian consumer law. I persisted of course and gave them plenty of simple and easy ways to comply. I would even drive 500km and take the broken inverter to their distribution center in Sydney and exchange it. I already knew the fault was a simple one so if they actually had anybody available to repair it they could have done so for less than an hour's labour and then either lumped me with the repaired unit or resold it. It's pretty obvious that they have none of that kind of contingency and just leave the customer in the cold once they have their money.
 
 The next port of call is ebay (and or paypal) who offer consumer protection as part of their sales pitch. I've had a few run-ins with ebay and paypal in the past about buyer and seller protection and I have taken them to the FOS (financial ombudsman service) and submitted their own responses to my complaints which conflict and they have lost every time.  Consulting ebay in this case yields the same response. They have email clearance houses in the Philippians that work to a script which pays lip service and does not attempt to resolve the issue. "Contact the seller" is their method of handling the issue.

But you have to go through the process before stepping up to the next level, which in my case is the NSW Department of fair trading. The people who enforce consumer law.
If you've tried contacting them, it's a long wait on hold until you get to talk to somebody. Speaking to them they were able to confirm that all the assumptions that I had made about consumer protection and Australian law were correct. The problem was that they have no way of enforcing the law unless the offshore seller chooses to comply. Fat chance, but this isn't unexpected.  Department of Fair trading is aware of the problem but is unwilling or unable to hold the shop font accountable. (which would be ebay).
If ebay was held accountable to Australian law, then they are not going to wear the cost of substandard products when they do not meet the advertised claims. They could effectively recover those losses from the dodgy sellers, but that would mean actually having to handle the complaints or insure or track sellers.

When I buy from aliexpress, well being an offshore shop front and supplier I don't expect them to obey Australian consumer law, it's buyer beware and to their credit aliexpress does a good job of protecting the consumers within those expectations.

China itself has also apparently set up it's own version of consumer affairs to address substandard products and poor consumer protection. The Department of Fair Trading even recommended this option. Trying to explore what options were available and how to initiate them has proven to be pretty pointless. It looks like the Chinese government is only providing lips service too.

So I repaired the inverter myself, it was a simple fault and one that I'm sure would be common to this particular model of hybrid inverter.
I did also attempt to scam the sellers back by contacting them and telling them as an Electronic Engineer I was very disappointed with their customer service for such a simple fault. I have fixed the fault and documented the process, repair and modification that will prevent this particular fault in the future.
Should they they interested in the modifications I'm willing to sell them (for a ridiculously cheap price - the bait). 
 I did get a response but from the details and further lack of response it looks like I have only ever been talking to a Chinese shop front or distributer and not a manufacturer or somebody who understands what is in the box.

So to respond to Dave's quote, can you even sue a Chinese company. Under Australian law, yes you can. Will you be protected by that same Australian law if you win. No.
However, IF the seller has an Australian ABN, then you have a much better chance of getting a satisfactory result.

The solution to the problem is for the government to take a class action against the Australian shop front company and sales broker accountable for the companies or salesmen they represent. In the mean time, if you can get an ABN from an ebay seller before you buy, that gives you some protection (which I'm yet to test).

   

Ed.Kloonk:
For those hoping for a en-masse remedy via Australian consumer protection should take a look at the local new-car industry in particular the after sales 'service'. It took a very large number of angry people to force the ACCC to finally do some thing about optional warranty commitment. GM responded by taking their bat and ball and going home.

eBay won't do anything because, amongst other things,  that would require enforcing item location. Will never happen. The ACCC -may- eventually do something but there is no motivation since eBay does bring a lot of tariffs into the coffers. And also the ratio of peeps mostly happy with the dodgy stuff vastly outweighs the ones who aren't.

thm_w:
Ebay/Amazon only care about the 30 day return window, so there is no point in trying to contact them past that point.

I'm not sure on this part though "chose a retailer that distributed from within Australia". So could you not sue said retailer in Australia for not honoring the warranty? Or are you saying they are able to have a local warehouse, and ship from there, but not operate as an Australian business?

Interesting post regardless.

trash:
The sales pitch is of course to ship from an Australian location. A distribution point which does two things. Delivers the item fast rather than waiting 4 weeks from china and it gives the impression it is an Australian seller when in fact they are not. Some of them are even clever enough to use a bit of Australian imagery to lubricate the sale.

 In general I have a couple of inverters and I've tested a couple of the Chinese inverters for comparison against the higher quality brands like Victron. Some are of course made from the cheapest under rated components and their power rating claims are very much over stated.
A 5KVA chinese inverter can sustain that power for a long surge like a big motor starting up slowly but something like a 3kVA welder they will crack the shits.  I still have one unit running which I've repaired, while the others are proving not to be worth the effort to fix.
The temptation is still the price.  I just would not waste the money on the bigger or more expensive chinese units. The risk is just a bit too much if they bomb. The smaller units might be worth a risk with less to lose knowing you pretty much have no warranty at all in any case.

james_s:
To some extent you get what you pay for. Even if you do manage to get a warranty replacement you are still out all the time and effort. Just spend the money on proper gear from a reputable manufacture in the first place and save yourself a lot of headaches down the road. Almost all of this stuff is built in China, there's a reason some of it is so much cheaper.

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