Let me share my unpleasant shopping experience at Sim Lim Sq eight years ago. Briefly, on 8/10/2005, I bought a PVR (Personal Video Recorder) at $300 from one Sim Lim Sq shop. Used for 3 days and it’s spoilt. Returned to the shop to complain but was advised to re-install the SW. Nine days later, it’s spoilt again. Went back to the shop to demand for a one-to-one exchange but they refused, saying that I could ONLY top up some more money to exchange for a better quality set! However, they agreed to repair for me when I didn’t want to top up any more cash. Left the gadget in the shop for repair. I kept calling them to check if the set was repaired. They told me it’s in a China factory undergoing repair. Finally on 20/3/2006, after more than 5 months I managed to get back my set. After 3 days, it’s spoilt yet again. KNN!

Exasperated, I went to the shop to demand that they compensate me since it’s still under the one year warranty period. They told me they willing to take in the faulty set for only $50. Unless I top up some more money to get a better version, they would not do anything at all. They kept asking me for more money thinking that I could print money!

At that point of time, I was totally at a loss. I did not know how to handle that unscrupulous shop. I was advised by the police to take my case to hopeless CASE since it’s a just a trade dispute. It’s not a criminal offense of cheating case so the police say. When I approached hopeless CASE, they said they could only take up my case if I were their member. I had to join as a member paying an annual membership fee. It’s a classic case of membership has its privileges lah! WTF!

I then decided to try the Small Claims Tribunal at the Subordinate Courts. I thought it’s simple but it was not. I had to personally pay another $5 to get the shop’s registration information at BizNet opposite the Subordinate Courts. Had to get the print-out of the shop’s business particulars, then fill up all the necessary forms, made a formal report with the receipt and warranty card attached and had to wait to speak to the registrar etc… Finally a date was set for the court hearing.

On the day of the hearing, the shop proprietor did not bother to turn up at all when we waited for her for more than an hour. Is it not a case of “Contempt of court”? Again, it had to be postponed to another date. Finally only on 23/5/2006, after about 7 months from the date I first bought the PVR from that shop, then only the matter was amicably resolved. I was refunded the original sum of $300 plus another $30 as costs! KNN! Is it worth the hassle?

Not to mention the countless trips to the said shop in Sim Lim Sq complaining about the faulty product, I had to apply 3 days of leave to the Small Claims Tribunal – to lodge the complt and the 2 days of hearing (the shop owner did not turn up on one of the hearing dates).

The said shop is still in business in Sim Lim Sq. In fact, it has grown even bigger! That episode made me wonder if there is any law to protect consumers like us. Where to turn to if you are faced with a situation like what I experienced? Is it not time consuming and not worth the trouble? We are talking about locals here. What about tourists visiting our country faced with such rogue retailers? Do they have the time and resources to handle those unscrupulous retailers especially those at Sim Lim Sq. In the light of the recent case i.e. Mobile Air saga where mother’s son by now is aware of their unethical business practices? I’m able to empathize with that Vietnamese tourist cuz I was also a victim before.

In my case, it is not so bad. Apparently, It did not amount to cheating or scams. That Mobile Air clearly is a cheat and a scam targeting on unsuspecting tourists to make a quick buck. Why is it that rogue retailers are still allowed to operate and get away from the law? My case happened about 8 years ago. Before my incident, there were many such similar cases. After my incident, there were even more cases surfacing yet nothing could be done to stop this scourge.

That high profile case has become public interest. It is no longer between that cheated Vietnamese tourist and the shop. It’s highlighted prominently in Vietnam with even China advising its citizens to be wary of unscrupulous shops in our country. Yup, it’s affecting our reputation as a tourist destination and shoppers’ paradise! My indignant relief driver Johnny Cash declared that “those scumbags and assholes” need to be locked up for good! But could we do that in a democratic country?

Recently, one prominent senior Cabinet Minister said that there are “laws to deal” with such errant retailers. Is that so? Maybe, the laws are not that effective after all. Since the laws are not effective in curbing such cases, online netizens are coming out in full vengeance condemning and shaming such retailers mercilessly. Obviously, I think public opinion and online outcries are much more effective than the apparently impotent authorities.

On my part, I will always advise all my foreign passengers taking my taxi not to go to Sim Lim Sq to shop for electronics stuff. I understand there are only few black sheep and not all the retailers there are that bad. Only those black sheep are sinking the entire boat affecting the business of others there. It’s better to play safe by telling all my tourist passengers to go to Funan IT Mall instead. They are more ethical and we we do not hear many negative cases there. The best is to go to Mustafa Centre. It’s open 24/7 with prices displayed prominently. 100% transparent and no nonsense. Mustafa Centre will not over-charge or cheat you! I’ll stake my reputation on Mustafa Centre rather than with Sim Lim Sq. The latter seems to be the equivalent of that past era of lawless “黑店” or “black shop” which in Chinese meant that it should be avoided at all costs like the plague!

Mustafa Centre even offers shoppers export sets at much lower prices compared to local warranty sets at slightly higher prices. So far, I’ve never heard of any negative feedback about Mustafa Centre. None at all. Many years ago since that unpleasant encounter, I’ve stopped going to Sim Lim Sq to shop for any electronics stuff. It’s either Funan IT Mall, Challenger, Gain City, Harvey Norman, Courts, Mustafa Centre etc but never, never go to Sim Lim Sq. That area is “shark infested” area. Go there at your risk lah!

It’s been quite some time since that Vietnamese tourist knelt down on his knees to beg for his refund, still it is generating news and more comments online with the main stream media also contributing to the saga. Even our radio stations are discussing about the incident. It’s now time to stop talking but take some concrete action instead! Let’s hope that such similar cases tarnishing our country’s reputation will not surface again.


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