China consumer day show targets fake online sales, food delivery

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A courier of food delivery smartphone application travels on his electric bicycle along a street in Shanghai, China, October 9, 2015.  REUTERS Aly Song
A courier of food delivery smartphone application travels on his electric bicycle along a street in Shanghai, China, October 9, 2015.

Reuters Aly Song

China’s annual consumer rights day TV show took aim at online food delivery apps, faked online sales and dodgy false teeth when it aired late on Tuesday, but the much-hyped program unusually failed to snag any major international firms.

The show, similar to the CBS network’s “60 Minutes” in the United States, has previously aimed barbs at companies from Apple Inc to Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE), and can leave global corporations and their press teams scrambling to respond to allegations after seeing their companies named and shamed.

But in an unusually low-key outing, the show’s highest-profile target was food delivery app, which it alleged allowed restaurants on its platform which were unlicensed and which used faked images of their outlets., which has investment from firms such as Tencent Holdings Ltd and Inc, said in a statement on its official microblog it took the issue seriously and had removed the offending restaurants from its platform.

The annual “3.15” investigative special on China Central Television (CCTV) also targeted the practice of “brushing” – creating fake online sales to improve a vendor’s standing.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, China’s top ecommerce firm, previously pledged to crack down on the practice.

Being named and shamed can hit a firm’s reputation and sales hard: iPhone maker Apple was forced into a rare apology in 2013 after criticism on the show of its after-sales service.

The show – a mix of on-stage theatrics, speeches and under-cover reports – last year singled out Volkswagen, Nissan Motor Co and Daimler AG’s Mercedes Benz, accusing them of selling spare parts and services customers didn’t need.

The CCTV program has, however, been losing some of its bite, with some viewers jumping to defend targeted companies and younger audiences simply switching channel.

A Reuters analysis of posts on China’s popular Sina Weibo microblog mentioning “315”, the common name for the show referring to the date of World Consumer Rights Day, shows a big drop in online chatter about the program since 2014.

Being caught can still sting, though, said James Feldkamp, CEO of China-based consumer products testing group MingJian.

“This is still the high-water mark of the annual consumer calendar, it’s still the biggest show and it’s still watched by hundreds of millions of households around China,” he said.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Additional reporting by SHANGHAI newsroom, Jake Spring and Paul Carsten in Beijing; Editing by Mark Potter)