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    Sep 30, 2015

    Website in the soup over 'hidden' fees

    ANOTHER e-commerce website has got into trouble over the way it charges premium membership fees.

    Olaprice, which was launched in March this year, has received 18 complaints from consumers about premium membership fees so far, according to numbers from the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case). The complainants said they had been charged the fees - $88 per quarter - without their knowledge.

    Olaprice's chief executive, Gregory Costamagna, also runs e-commerce website StreetDeal. The Straits Times reported last month that consumers complained about StreetDeal's hidden membership fees. Case is currently investigating the matter.

    The complaints against Olaprice are very similar.

    One consumer, Manish Nathwani, bought a shower head for $8.80 from Olaprice in June. The IT consultant was shocked to discover later on his credit card bills that the firm had charged him an additional $176 for membership fees - in two charges of $88 each, one in June and the other earlier this month.

    "At no point was I aware that I agreed to such a charge. I got really upset," said Mr Nathwani, 40.

    He has made a police report and written to the authorities on the matter. "This is not the way to do business. It really spoils the image of Singapore."

    When The Straits Times visited the Olaprice site yesterday, it found a small box at the bottom of the transaction page which consumers are required to tick before making a purchase. Next to the box, in small print, is this sentence in two separate lines: "I acknowledge that I have read, understood and agreed with the Terms & Conditions and Subscription terms and I accept to be charged SGD88 quarterly."

    When contacted, Case's executive director Seah Seng Choon said: "This is not acceptable. The problem is that many consumers miss this bit; consumers think they are only agreeing to terms and conditions."

    He said that Case is working with Mr Costamagna to increase the font size of the sentence, and include the charge as a separate element.

    Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, Mr Costamagna said several thousand shoppers have bought items from Olaprice since its launch. Of these, about 1,000 are premium members, and complaints make up just 1 to 2 per cent of its premium members, he said.

    "It's actually very clear on the website. We mention this charge and customers are asked to click on a box," he said, adding that such charging models are used at other e-commerce sites, too.

    "The issue is education. We are still in discussions with Case on how to improve the customer experience."

    He added that one of their plans is to send customers an e-mail before the membership charge is levied. "We aim to have zero customers unhappy," he said.

    Mr Nathwani, however, is not convinced.

    "This is not the way to sell someone a membership," he said, adding that many people do not check their credit card statements.

    "What they are doing is very misleading and sneaky."