Cyber-attack: Angry Pingduoduo vendors turn tables on platform

Disgruntled vendors have bombarded Pinduoduo’s own stores with fake orders and demanded refunds, giving the platform an unpleasant taste of its own medicine.

Photo by Kuang Da

Photo by Kuang Da



A large number of stores on the e-commerce site Pinduoduo have been shocked and dismayed over the past few days as they fell victim to what appeared to be an orchestrated cyber-attack.

Attack from within

The trouble appears to have originated in Pinduoduo's own discount store on March 25. The store was under attack for around four hours before the nature of the assault was fully understood and the store was taken offline.

The store was bombarded with fake complaints apparently from dissatisfied merchants. The store was unable to cope when these “merchants” placed countless fake orders for unwanted merchandise and immediately began to demand refunds.

After the Pinduoduo store went offline, rumors immediately began to circulate on short video platforms such as Douyin.

Sweet little lies

Pinduoduo founder HUANG Zheng is accused of an inappropriate association with Chinese confectioner Hsu Fu Chi. Based in Dongguan in Guanzhou province, Hsu Fu Chi makes biscuits, chocolates and snacks. The company is majority owned by Nestle.

Groundless rumors have it that Huang worked for Nestle before founding Pinduoduo. Huang joined Google in 2004 and started his own e-commerce business three years later. Nestle was a client of his e-commerce agency Leqee.

The fury spread fast. On Tuesday, dozens of stores on Pinduoduo – most of which are believed to have ties with or owned by the e-commerce platform – were inundated with refund requests as soon as orders were placed. Some had to close to avoid losses.

A Pinduoduo employee posted on his personal WeChat account that these were the most extreme and malicious events she had encountered in her career. The platform had collected evidence and planned to take legal action.

According to an unnamed merchant who spoke to Jiemian News, the platform's rules are far too strict, and too punishing of merchants. Sellers are fined for delays in deliveries that are not their fault and have been penalized for “inappropriate” customer service responses.

Resentment has been building since the depths of the pandemic, with merchants convinced that they are paying for the shortcomings of others.

History of discontent

Pinduoduo had a serious crisis with inferior products back in 2018. Very little has been done since then to assure a higher quality of products, but quite a lot has been done to sanitize Pinduoduo’s image. The company is exceptionally authoritarian in its treatment of merchants.

Sellers say that the platform must operate as a broker and an honest one at that. Treatment, claimed the angry traders, can only be fair when it is fair to both buyers and sellers. Pinduoduo has chosen to prioritize consumer interests over those of merchants.

It’s hardly surprising. Dissatisfied merchants have better things to do with their time than many of Pinduoduo’s customers. Disgruntled buyers, on the other hand, are quite happy for the chance to spend hours, if not days online, airing grievances, and castigating sellers, stores and platforms for real or imagined sins. Trigger-happy customers whining about poor packaging attract far more social-media attention than merchants complaining about unreasonable customers.

Pinduoduo has, for its part, reverted to type and has chosen to blame the vendors. The platform has vowed to fight against these "vile and despicable" activities, a statement that will do nothing to calm some very troubled waters. The merchants behind that action feel hard-done-by and misused.

Pinduoduo has precedent

A comparable event occurred last year when a buyer placed 10 orders on Pinduoduo for a total of 18,222.28 yuan (US$2,6470). The cheeky customer ordered 1,209 packets of instant noodles, 781 packs of biscuits, 396 drinks, and 94 tins of oatmeal.

The customer applied for a refund as soon as the store dispatched the packages, leaving malicious comments. The customer was ruled to have infringed on the rights of the merchant and paid compensation.

Malware accusations

Last week Google suspended the Pinduoduo app from the app store after versions of the app found outside the Google store were flagged with malware issues.

A Google spokesperson said the app had been suspended over “security concerns.”

A Pinduoduo spokesperson said Google had not explained why the app was “temporarily suspended,” only that the app “is not compliant with Google's Policy.”