Saga over underweight crabs casts shadow on China’s online sales

Published on
November 17, 2016

An embarrassing episode for a Chinese online vendor of crabs has cast some doubt over the supervision of online sales of seafood in China.

As reported in the Peng Pai News, one of the country’s government-run newspapers, a consumer, Mr. Zhou, went to the press claiming 50 boxes of the premium-priced Hu Pin You brand mitten crab he bought as gifts were well below the weight advertised on online stores when he received the boxes at home and weighed them.

The Hu Pin You brand is packaged and dispatched from the city of Kunshan by the Gong Shi Xie Ye Co., which also sells seven other brands like Qiao Su Ge, and claims to control more than 30 hectares of ponds.

As reported in Peng Pai News, Mr. Zhou said he bought female crabs advertised at 175-200g weight “but I weighed them myself and I was stunned, they were 132 grams.”

Worse, Mr Zhou claims he bought 50 boxes of the crabs – of the Yangcheng Pairy crab variety, which is a seasonal hit in China – at CNY 888 (USD 129, EUR 120) each as gifts, and had his friends contact him about the underweight issue, due to which Zhou claims he feels “very embarrassed.” Zhou purchased the crabs from a Gong Shi Xie Ye Co-operated store on Jindong, one of China’s leading e-commerce sites.
While Zhou told the Peng Pai News he was offered compensation from the vendor, the newspaper alerted the Kunshan Market Control & Inspection Bureau (a government agency), which informed the newspaper that complaints over Yangcheng crabs weight discrepancies were the most common received from the public.

A Peng Pai News journalist accompanying Kunshan Market Control & Inspection Bureau officials to the Gong Shi Xie Ye Co packaging and dispatch facilities reported that the officials found that boxes labeled 175 grams, 190 grams and 195 grams in fact weighed 140 grams. A disclaimer on the Gong Shi Xie Ye Co online store points to a possible six percent variation from the advertised weight due to “wear and tear,” but the allowed discrepancy is well below the difference between the advertised and actual weights.

In response, a company spokesman said the sheer pressure of high demand during China’s annual October gifting season led to the problems.

“Our business is flourishing,” said the unnamed spokesman, who explained the firm has been selling up to 3,000 boxes per day in the Chinese festival and wedding season, which lasts from September to late October. “We will increase supervision of dispatches and we will compensate customers.”

Zhou’s plight has been picked up by social media and regional media in China, where online sales of seafood have surged in part due to the important gift market around national festivals. Separately, seafood producers guilty of food safety and false advertising are to be barred from online sales in China, according to a draft revision of the country’s food safety law to deal with online sales of fresh food.

The amendments, which are currently open for public comment through 19 November, deal with cross-border e-commerce. Any food producers found guilty of food safety violations must be barred from Chinese e-commerce sites. Those sites will in turn be held responsible if this isn’t enforced.

Given the relative strictness of China’s rules on antibiotics traces (imports have been returned in recent months), this could mean that a large percentage of Chinese seafood producers will be barred from online sales. That’s of course depending on implementation. A food safety law and regulations on false advertising issued in 2015 contained specific regulations and fines against false advertising.

Retaining confidence in China’s online marketplace – an efficient route of entry into the country’s salubrious consumer bases – is vital for e-commerce firms themselves, so it’s doubly important that vendors are realistic in any advertising that goes with their sales.

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