Making sense of the #ShopeeScam

June 14, 2019 – Ally Soriano

The hot mess known as the #ShopeeScam has left a bad taste in the mouths of the online retailer’s patrons and Blackpink fans alike (and K-pop fans in general). We’ve seen and heard the horrors of injustice that both the group and their Blink have gone through at the hands of Shopee.

This isn’t the first time a K-pop group has held a meet and greet in the Philippines. Just earlier this year, Bae Jin Young of Wanna One held a successful meet and greet last May 18 at the New Frontier Theater and Momoland held their first official fan meeting at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on January 25. Even before that there was Seventeen (October 2018), Kim Ji-soo (February 2018), and JBJ (January 2018). So we are capable of holding proper meetings, but what went so wrong with Shopee x Blackpink?

Money, money, money

Unlike other fan meetings I mentioned previously, Shopee forwent the straightforward route of simply selling tickets to the fanmeet. They didn’t even go with the traditional methods used in Korean fan meets where tickets are raffled off to fans who buy albums at certain locations or stores. Instead, being the lucrative online retailer that it is, opted to create a hierarchical promo system wherein your chances of attending the meet and greet were based on the value or amount of merchandise that you purchased through their platform.

This created an unfair dynamic in that those who lacked the purchasing power had virtually no chance of winning and those who could afford it predictably took it to the extremes. The mechanics of the promo required users to spend a certain amount of money in order to be considered ‘Top Spenders’; 568 of which would win passes for the fan meet.  While the minimum accumulated spending to join the event was Php 4,000, some fans reportedly spent over Php 250,000 in a bid to qualify for the Top 40 who would not only win tickets to the fan meet, but would be able to secure autographs from the group.

While this system wasn’t exactly fair or ethical, one thing it was supposed to be was clear-cut. Shopee had shifted the focus over from chance to numbers. And numbers shouldn’t lie. But despite this, there were many inconsistencies with the rankings and winners. Fans who were notified that they had won later had their tickets withdrawn with the claim that they had received a wrong notification. The final ranking was never released and the mechanics that dictated it were even tweaked momentarily without notice in an attempt to justify the cancellation of other winners’ tickets.

At first, fans who won tickets and consequently had them forfeited even after spending thousands of pesos received little more than an apologetic message from their customer service representatives and a 1000-peso voucher that they could use on the shopping app. Keeping in mind that P1000 is only a quarter of the base price needed to join in the first place, even if the total number of fans’ spending didn’t reach astronomical heights, they would’ve still been ripped off anyway. Some were notified the day before, others weren’t so lucky.

There were also fans who only found out their time and money were wasted after they had flown in from their provinces and arrived at SM Samsung Hall. They were informed by staff that they were simply not on the list and banned from entering.

There would’ve been a number of other viable options to compensate for pulling the proverbial rug up from under the Blinks' feet. The deserving fans could have been let into the venue to watch and at least catch a glimpse of their idols. Merchandise could have been given out to fans. Literally anything that isn’t just shunning them from the event.

Although Shopee later apologized, they failed to acknowledge the mistakes committed and instead pegged the problem on the “high expectations” of the fans. Their apology overall seemed insincere and like they were expecting to wash their hands of the matter without any consequences.

However, new reports said that those who were initially given Meet and Greet passes that were taken away irresponsibly by the organizer will be reimbursed for their purchases. The money can be claimed at Shopee's headquarters with a legal counsel present. The buyers will also get to keep the items that were already shipped to them.

Caution: handle with care

It goes without saying, if you’re handling any event, every single detail needs to be treated with the utmost care and attention. Shopee evidently missed this memo. Many things such as their choice of host to the unnecessary translator really missed the mark. To the Blinks who were able to attend the event, many were left cringing at the interactions on stage. The organizers hired a relatively unknown host who not only questioned why the girls seemed like they had no energy but also supposedly called Jennie lazy. 

This could maybe be chalked up to bad Filipino humor, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was still rudely callous. Additionally, a translator was hired for the event despite the fact that 3 of the 4 members of the group were fluent in English. And though I understand that the translator was only doing the job she was assigned to do, she should have sensed when the members wished to answer themselves.

Thirdly, the Shopee staff that was assigned onsite didn't show enough preparedness or accountability during the event. For one, Jennie, who was feeling unwell and possibly had a panic attack, wasn’t attended to right away by a medical team. Two, a staff on-stage spilled water on Lisa during the autograph session. And worse, Blinks outside were turned away by rude staffers who called them gullible. This is also the same staff who treated fans indifferently that gave star treatment to celebrities and influencers who showed up to the event.

Under the influence

The prevailing narrative is that the fans who had won tickets had had those tickets instead allotted to celebrities and influencers who were invited to the event or had simply asked for tickets. Even if this was not the case, it’s hard to explain why so many Blinks were turned away despite having won fair and square. Suppose the venue could fit up to 750 guests. If the organizers promised 500 seats to the fans and 250 seats to press and celebrities, that would have been fine. But if fans were promised 500 seats but only received around 300 despite paying for it, it’s hard to call it anything other than fraud.

There’s also the question of inviting influencers. Influencer culture is undoubtedly a big thing right now and will continue to be so until the social media bubble pops. However, the main point of why events invite influencers is for the publicity. And this is a reasonable excuse. But for a group as international and well-known as Blackpink, this need for added clout was hardly necessary. Especially if the content they contribute or put out have zero impact anyway since they don’t actually care for the group or its fanbase.

On an interesting side note however, a number of Blackpink fan clubs were also invited to the event without going through the same process as the rest of the fans.