WineSleuth 5: Dodgy Traders

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Dodgy Traders: lovable rogues or scum of the Earth?

Consumer protection rights are non-existent here in Shanghai. How does that affect us? Every day, in every way, if you eat or wear clothes. These guys are not Del Boy and Rodney.

The black market is inherently unstable. It survives by exploiting some to feed the greed of the many, while it offers riches to a few. We generally turn a blind eye if we are not adversely affected: don’t see the real or near slavery. But lets face it, leaving apart the ethics and moral issues, most counterfeit goods are of pretty low quality, a waste of money or even potentially dangerous. Trinkets that becomes garbage after the sheen has worn off. Consumerism run amok down a dark alley of greed.dodgy traders

From time to time, we hear of outrages in our industry; too close to home. It seems to be expected when a lowly economic migrant breaks the system to escape poverty for a better life. But not so acceptable when it comes from a supermarket chain renowned for it’s higher (than necessary?) prices.

“Fakes are everywhere – from bottom- to top-of-the-range,” Romain Vandevoorde, head of wine importer Le Baron, told (a) French news agency.

“There is more Lafite ‘82 in China than was produced in France. So you really have to be wary if you find any of that in China,” Vandevoorde added.

Supermarkets too?

One supermarket that seems to be the most abusive of its clients is City-Shop. I should know. I am a customer and I feel abused. Obviously, I wouldn’t buy their wines unless they changed their whole methodology of storage and were educated to talk about their products, rather than use old fashioned ‘sell’ tactics. But just take a look at their cynical or ignorant approach to consumers, firstly, through their homophone wine, Château Lafitte. (Spelled with 2 ‘t’s’, not the single ‘t’ as in the case of the most famous wine in the world). They offer the impersonator wine for sale at about 200RMB, which is incidentally more than it should cost, as it is a pretty unremarkable red Bordeaux Superieur (a quality level that was invented in the 90’s, and usually means anything but, when I try them). Obviously, they sell it way, way, way below the price of it’s more ethereal top level (astronomically priced) namesake. But why do they sell it at all?

You might ask, “How can these flagship ‘western’ stores sell such clearly intended rip-off, con-wines with such casual disregard?” Sadly, The 2 t’s version is a real vineyard. The attempt at bathing in someone el;se’s glory may be a Bordeaux thing. A lot of producers have very similar names to more successful and famous neighbours.

It would be ethical, surely, for them to ignore the wine for what it is; either a fake or a fraud. You don’t see cars being sold as BMUU in an attempt to fool consumers in to thinking double U is a W. Is it blind ignorance or an uncaring deceit, relying on consumer ignorance? Maybe they are ignorant to the fact. But for me, it’s either a smokescreen for dodgy dealing they should be ashamed of, or it’s an ignorance they should attend to, as it leaves a bad tatse in the mouth (as it were) and adds weight to the dodgy wine in China stereotype.

Duty of Care

Selling any product gives a retailer a responsibility or duty of care. Their position stands outside that ethical European way of retailing, mainly, I reason, because they do not have to do that here in SH. Certainly the authorities’ are presently out of the picture, neglectful and clueless as to how to police the counterfeiting, fakery and deceptions. The combination of these elements means there will be no challenge. As a final insult at the checkout they have signs announcing that they will not accept returned wines. Full stop. Period. They, who would behave negligently  themselves are assuming that you, the customer are ‘bent’ too, and they want to protect them selves from you. Not only are they content to charge the highest prices in SH for their products, they are also openly hostile to their customers. And yet they market themselves as a western orientated business. It’s a sham. Very poor.

Outright Liars

Others are looking to exploit the murky China situation too. Yangjui . com were a fairly major sized online outfit who simply disappeared overnight last August, leaving unpaid debts behind. They absconded: ‘Typical of the Chinese’ some have cynically and incorrectly commented: Yangjui was run by a French woman. That company vanished last August from its premises in SH leaving debts to one supplier of RMB50,000.

The plight and subsequent flight of one of our major competitors came as a shock. They had been a bug bear anyway due to their unethical marketing practices. Their crime was to artificially claim wines they were offering were at fantastic discounts when they weren’t. Yangjui.com was selling at normal prices wines which it had pretended ought to be higher than the market price, yet were in fact inflated beyond all reasonable cost and then magically discounted by huge levels for their customers. Left, is an example.

In actuality, they were simply charging reasonably, but by deception. It really disgusts me that folks play on other people’s trust and naiveté in this way. Another trick they had was to make up Robert Parker scores for the wines they sold. Lying and stealing. Not a happy ship, I’ll bet.

I wrote to one of their ‘consultants’, confronting them; pointing out their practices were both unethical and disgraceful (and that, perhaps naively, her parents would be ashamed of her behaviour). My calls for honesty were ignored, obviously. No-one likes to have their misrepresentation noticed. When I bumped into the same young lady in question at a fair, her demeanour changed course dramatically from cloying seductress, hoping for a sale to nasty scorned survivalist, when she realised that I had penned the email: she became hysterical, ushering me away, developed crocodile tears and proceeded to spread the word around the fair we were attending that I was a monstrous bully. Really? Smokescreen tactics, lies and theft. There was simply no end to the amorality.

For me, it is good riddance to bad rubbish when a company like that vanishes, but I am sure their model will continue to be applied by others, looking to cream profits off the top of lies and deceit.  Buyer beware.

 Here is another example from an outfit still operating and getting plaudits in the local magazine’s recommending  them.

Seen today on the Chinese site ‘yes my wine’; Bodegas Alina Emblema Sauvignon blanc: being sold for RMB115 a bottle, a wine we currently sell for 80 (but less, on offer). Amazingly, they also claim RMB115 to be a bargain price, as the wine should retail for RMB168. Really?

No thanks. When competitors engage in these ‘muddying the water’ price manipulation and misinformation tactics; so obviously to create confusion, and apparently to cheat customers who might not know better, I wonder who I can turn to. But alas there’s no safety net here. No policing of such things. No consumer protection laws. We just have to get on with it and hope not to be damned by association.

TWM February 2013

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