Thirty year-old Wang Qian didn’t set out to become a consumer champion; she just wanted a new Mercedes Benz.
But for two weeks this month Wang won plaudits for using her smarts – and her social media accounts – to stand up for her rights.
It didn’t matter that the dispute was over a luxury car that most Chinese could not afford. Instead netizens marvelled at her tenacity in getting the result she wanted.
A staggering 97% of consumers in China claim that their rights were violated in 2018, according to survey completed by Tencent and Rong360, a Beijing-based financial products provider. But only 37% chose to take action, because they thought it would be too stressful or simply pointless.
Wang’s case suggests that the size of your purchase – in her case a CLS300 series car worth Rmb660,000 ($98,039) – doesn’t always protect you from shoddy treatment.
The saga began on April 9 when Wang Qian – a pseudonym given to her by netizens – posted a video of herself on social media. In it she was seen sitting on the bonnet of a red Mercedes in a showroom of the Lizhixing car dealership in Xi’an. She is also heard shouting at the staff about how she had bought the exact same car there in February – as a birthday present to herself. But as soon as she drove the car off the forecourt she noticed it was leaking oil.
Wang then went through the proper process of filing a complaint and waiting the requisite 15 days for a reply. But the dealership refused to give her a refund or exchange the vehicle. They were also ignoring her calls, she protests in the footage. “I was too reasonable with you… I wouldn’t be doing something so shameful if I thought we could still discuss this,” she complains to the aghast staff.
The video, and a separate audio recording of conversations with the dealership, went viral online with the topic #Mercedes Benz Owner Defends Rights#, getting more than 400 million views on Sina Weibo.
“What does it say about our system that people have to make a scene before they get heard?” asked a supportive netizen. As Wang’s case gained traction in the wider media it emerged that the dealership had convinced her to pay for the car in instalments not outright, as she had originally planned. Because of that, she had been charged an additional Rmb15,000 financial services fee too.
The timing of the row was awkward for Mercedes – which is owned by Daimler – as it was gearing up for the high-profile Shanghai auto show. China is also Mercedes’ biggest market with 652,000 cars sold in the country last year.
On April 13, the German brand released a statement on weibo saying it was “deeply sorry” for the woman’s experience and that it had launched its own investigation. Three days later – the day that the auto show opened – it sent out another notice saying it had little control over the operation of its Chinese dealerships but that it would continue to call on its partners to follow best practice.
Just to be safe, it deployed extra security guards at its stand at the auto show too.
On the same day it was announced that Wang had finally reached a settlement with the dealership, which included a replacement car, a full refund of the financial services fee and a commitment to VIP customer servicing for the next 10 years. Mercedes also offered to fly Wang to Germany to show her how its cars are made.
In all, Mercedes seems to have navigated a potential PR disaster largely unscathed, with the brunt of public anger born by the dealership chain, Lizhixing.
After Wang got the service fee refunded, other consumers turned up at the Xi’an dealership demanding the same and the case has also prompted the authorities to launch a review of sales “irregularities” across the rest of Shaanxi province.
For Wang – whose real surname is Xue – the accolades were shortlived, however. After the video went viral she was recognised and outed online as the owner of a Shanghai food court that allegedly owes almost Rmb6 million in delayed salary payments and unpaid invoices.
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