Supermarket direct discounts would be better, watchdog says

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Supermarkets should give back to the public by offering discounts on each checkout receipts, Consumer Council's chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said.

The SAR's two largest supermarket chains revealed their giveback plans last week that are required under the Employment Support Scheme.

The government has required its rebates to be not less than 50 percent of the wage subsidies.

“Why do supermarket chains apply for the Employment Support Scheme when they maintain their profit levels amid the sluggish market?” Wong questioned when attending a Commercial radio program today. 

ParknShop launched a lucky draw for cash coupons worth a total of HK$32 million, as part of the rebate.

Wong said giving out coupons worth HK$32 million by lucky draw “cannot ease citizens' difficulties" as mass lucky draws in the past have seen their online registration overloaded and scams for personal data could also arise from these events.

During the pandemic, the Consumer Council noticed that the price for products such as milk formula, rice, and canned foods increased for about 10 percent. Also, supermarkets do not promote discounts such as “buy-two-get-one-free” which could affect consumers’ expenses.

Wong said on the same program that the consumer council has received over 10,000 complaints this year regarding online shopping. Those involve the purchase of masks, travel packages, as well as refunds for educational classes.

“Around 4000 to 5000 annual complaints are recorded in the past few years, there is a significant increase this year,” Wong said.

She reminded citizens to refrain from impulsive purchases, especially those promoted by live streams on social media platforms.

A government spokesman said that Wellcome will allot 54 percent of its HK$184.5 million Employment Support Scheme subsidy into its rebate scheme, while ParknShop will put in 50 percent of its HK$161.96 million subsidy.

About 90 percent of both supermarkets' rebate are distributed to the public and underpriviledge groups in forms of cash and food coupons, and around 10 percent is attributable to the rewards to frontline staff.

He said the government do not support the inclusion of discount offers by supermarkets as part of their giveback programs, which include price reductions and freezing prices, because discounts are hard to measure and lack transparency.

The government spokesman said Wellcome's freezing price measure cannot be included in the give-back proposal and that the HK$100 million rebate proposal of Wellcome does not include such initiative. 

"Nonetheless, we appreciate Wellcome to include additional discount arrangements to benefit customers on top of its give-back proposal." Government spokesman said.

A Wellcome spokesman said their freeze-price scheme was "self-initiated in the hopes of supporting customers in tough times."

The spokesman added that the at least six months freezing price measure is to ensure customers will be protected from price fluctuations.

Also the freezing price measure is part of their ‘Heartfelt Give-Back’ programme to support the public community amid the pandemic.