Glitches have racked one of the payment platforms for Hong Kong’s HK$5,000 (US$643) e-voucher scheme, preventing some shoppers from using their coupons since the initiative’s weekend launch.
Mobile wallet Tap & Go, part of Richard Li Tzar-kai’s telecoms giant PCCW, apologised on Monday to customers for the problems they experienced with collecting and spending the digital vouchers after the scheme went live early on Sunday.
Disgruntled users said the tap function on the platform did not work when they were trying to pay for goods and services, while several complained of no one answering their calls to support hotlines.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
“We regret that some customers might have encountered difficulties in using the consumption vouchers,” Tap & Go said at noon on Monday. “We have identified the cause and area of improvement in cooperation with partners to resume normal service gradually.”
The first batch of the government’s HK$2,000 e-vouchers was distributed on Sunday through four designated payment service providers, the others being Octopus, AlipayHK and WeChat Pay HK. AlipayHK is affiliated with Alibaba, which owns the Post.
The HK$36 billion initiative aims to contribute 0.7 per cent growth to Hong Kong’s coronavirus-hit economy by boosting local spending on retail shopping, restaurant dining and public transport.
Some 5.5 million people, or 75 per cent of the eligible population who had registered before July 17, could start using HK$2,000 worth of e-vouchers from Sunday. Registration remains open until August 14.
Tap & Go is a mobile wallet, which links up with Mastercard and UnionPay payment services.
A shopper calling himself Mr Yeung reported being unable to collect the HK$2,000 vouchers until 2am on Monday.
Netizen Alex Chiu said he was informed via automated message of the failed release of the vouchers to him. He was directed to a support line but said he was forced to hold the line for 51 minutes before he was finally able to lodge his query.
The Consumer Council said it had received 26 complaints as of 5pm on Monday, with most disputes involving prices and quality of services. These included two pharmacies which allegedly breached arrangements with payment systems.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority told the Post it had received 86 complaints in relation to the e-vouchers between Sunday and 6pm on Monday, which mainly involved issues with the designated payment systems.
It also received Tap & Go’s report of its system issues, and demanded the company rectify the situation and keep users informed of the situation in a timely manner.
Octopus said it was investigating allegations that a Sha Tin pharmacy was charging a 2 per cent handling fee for transactions using the vouchers.
The probe was triggered by a customer complaining that a HK$21 fee was levied for a HK$1,027 purchase at the shop on Sunday.
An Octopus spokesman warned partnering merchants of abiding by its terms and conditions, barring them from imposing extra charges.
He said any breaches by retailers would result in the termination of payment services provided by Octopus.
The government’s head of budget and tax policy unit, Jessie Wong Hok-ling, said such practices were “not encouraged”, adding that shops found to be helping customers “cash in” the vouchers faced punishment.
“Shops should not collect extra fees from those who [use e-vouchers],” Wong said. “The aim of the vouchers is to encourage spending in local shops, and they cannot be cashed in.”
If retailers were found to have engaged in fraud, “they may be put on a black list and would no longer be able to collect e-vouchers in the future”, he added.
Wong said the government would not disclose which of the four platforms was the most popular among the public for fear of interfering in customer choice before the end of the application process by mid-August.
Annie Tse Yau On-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, the city’s largest retailer chamber, said she was aware of shops collecting additional service charges of up to 2 per cent from customers using the e-vouchers.
“We need more time to find out more about the situation, but it is still the individual business decisions of the shops,” she said. “The most important thing is that customers must pay attention and ask the shops for clarity if needed.”
Tse said some association members had reported a surge in takings of more than 50 per cent on Sunday.
She said some families were pooling their HK$2,000 together to pay for higher value items. Octopus was the most popular way of payment, Tse added.
The industry leader predicted the scheme would benefit a range of sectors and not just retail, with overall growth for the latter likely to be around 10 per cent.
More from South China Morning Post:
This article HK$5,000 vouchers: Hong Kong shoppers irked over Tap & Go glitches stopping them from using coupons first appeared on South China Morning Post