It is a matter of consternation that 30,000 complaints have been lodged by customers to the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection against e-commerce sites over the period July 2017 to September 2022 against some 47 companies and a few hundred Facebook-based entities. After the debacle of a major e-commerce site Evaly, everybody expected that the relevant authorities would do the needful to restore consumer confidence on online business. Of the 30,000 or so complaints, nearly half of them are against two companies, namely Evaly and Eorange. E-commerce sites' business had peaked during the Covid-time lockdowns. But people, these days, are increasingly finding their orders not being honoured up to their satisfaction. While sites like Daraz, foodpanda, ajkerdeal, chaldal and a few others have fared better than dozens more on the list, the directorate of consumer rights data tell us that between 60 to 96 per cent of complainants had their issues addressed.
Consumers have paid for products and there have been instances where months have passed by without goods being delivered. Worse, in the case of default, money paid has not been refunded. This is a straight forward fraudulent practice, which happens when there is little by way of enforcement of laws. This is understood that a number of e-commerce sites wilfully ignore the Directorate's summons and notices. How can such a situation be allowed to prevail? The problem is that the government body dedicated to upholding consumers' complaints is poorly equipped to handle a large volume of complaints it receives annually.
Going by the Directorate's own admission, it is understood that although 30 written complaints had been lodged against a certain online site over the past few months, only one or two could be settled. Again, the data points to a deplorable lack of customer satisfaction with one e-commerce platform, Eorange, against which 6,000 complaints were registered, but the company only settled 33, or 0.005 percent. Evaly, the most famous, or infamous, e-commerce site in the country that went belly-up, has been likened to a Ponzi scheme. It has reportedly settled 41 per cent of claims. But then, this particular platform got national and international media coverage. Its top notches were also put behind bar. That is not the situation with other e-commerce sites which do not face such intense scrutiny and can manage to stay under the radar. This opens up the quandary for millions of people who use online services via e-commerce sites for convenience. It is time for the government to recognise this trend and protect the rights of an increasing numbers of urban people using e-commerce sites. The rising incidences of malpractice by these sites are taking a heavy toll on consumers, particularly the middle class. The fact that Consumer Rights Protection Act came into force back in 2009; it is time to revisit the law in 2022 to provide greater legal protection to consumers.
That can only happen if the Directorate is manned properly to start with. It must have the requisite institutional capacity with specialized manpower to effectively monitor and supervise the market. The body must revamp its penalty structure so that online business firms will find it extremely expensive to swindle customers. Furthermore, the directorate must be sufficiently empowered to direct other relevant state agencies to act as and when necessary. Only if these steps are taken, hopefully, the consumers' rights directorate would be in a position to assist customers who are now being cheated very often.
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