Bait and Switch

How to avoid bait and switch in Hong Kong

Market in Hong Kong
Joonwon Choi/Flickr

Bait and switch in Hong Kong is famed as a tactic to rip off shoppers and, although the scam isn’t as widely used as the media sometimes makes out shoppers to Hong Kong should be aware of bait and switch.

What Is Bait and Switch?

Bait and switch basically involve the store offering a product at a very low price and then substituting or switching that product for an inferior one.

In Hong Kong, the scam can happen one of two ways, and usually involves electronic items or photographic equipment.

  • 1. The customer agrees to buy a product advertised at an amazingly low price. The customer pays for the product when the assistant then suddenly discovers that the shop is out of stock. Instead, they offer the customer a replacement product at an equally low price. The ‘replacement’ product is actually of significantly lower value. Alternatively, the sales assistant may sell the original product at the agreed price, but it will be supplied without cables, controllers etc, which are then sold to the customer at inflated prices.How To Avoid: It may seem easy to avoid this bait and switch tactic, and it is true to say that it relies on using your own best judgment, but Hong Kong salesmen can exert strong pressure on customers to buy a product to the point of being aggressive. The fact that the staff in the store are only speaking Cantonese also means English speaking customers don’t fully understand what’s going on. If you feel pressured in a store, you should leave. The shops most culpable of this tactic are the electronics shops along Nathan Road, which should be avoided altogether.
      • 2. The customer agrees to buy a product, say a DV100 Digital Camera. The sales assistant goes into the stockroom to collect the product and arrives with a DV100 box, however, the sales assistant has actually swapped the DV100 camera for a DV90 in the stockroom. The box is real, so the customer only realizes when they return home that the product they paid for isn’t the product they received. The store has a no returns policy.How to Avoid: If staff need to go to the stockroom to retrieve your product, and are out of sight, be sure to check the contents of the box on their return.
      • Remember, never pay for a product, until you have the exact product you want in your hands. Stores that practice bait and switch operate strict no refund policies and once you hand over your money, it can be very hard to get it back.
      • Hong Kong has poor protection for victims of bait and switch, but if you feel you’ve been the victim of the scam, you should contact the Hong Kong Consumer Council. If you’re the victim of the second bait and switch tactic, you may also contact the Hong Kong Police at the time. The police are helpful and are well aware of the stores who are involved in this practice. Contact the Tsim Sha Tsui police on 2678 2887.
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