There is no alternative to public-private initiatives to restore consumer confidence in e-commerce, experts said at a seminar on Friday.
They asked the Bangladesh Competition Commission to keep a close eye on issues like price dumping and take action against those practising it.
E-commerce platform owners, who were present at the seminar titled "E-commerce policy talk for addressing the 4th industrial revolution", urged the commission to strengthen itself and ensure fair competition in the market.
Shomi Kaiser, president of the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB), said 80 lakh families were now indirectly involved in e-commerce.
"We do not want the responsibility of a few organisations to fall on everyone else and this sector be ruined. This is why public-private collaboration is very important now. There is no substitute for protecting entrepreneurs, as well as working to restore buyers' confidence," she said at the seminar organised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh (ICAB).
"I realised a year ago that such a situation may arise in the e-commerce sector. We also discussed the matter with e-CAB. But we all want businesses to do well and the government will help in this regard," Chairperson of Bangladesh Competition Commission Md Mofizul Islam said.
Director General of the Postal Department Md Siraz Uddin said the postal department now received fewer letters, but in recent times more parcels have been arriving, most of which were from e-commerce firms.
"It is not only good for the e-commerce sector, but also the postal department. We are ready to serve the people at affordable prices. Cross-border e-commerce, with the support of other institutions, including the Bangladesh Bank, is being considered as a potential field in the future," he said.
Director General of the WTO Cell of the commerce ministry Md Hafizur Rahman said, "We were not ready for what happened in the e-commerce sector. While we were working on speeding up other things, including the delivery system, we found ourselves shrinking because of this situation.
"People like Rassel [CEO of Evaly] have been able to entice not only customers but also merchants, but it is not possible to keep them under surveillance like terrorists. We had an idea about this a year-and-a-half ago. We had doubts about the amount of advertisements and discounts given by these companies, but it was not possible to stop them."
Hafizur also said the situation unravelled before they had even thought about how to bring it under a system or what the exit path for such a situation would be.
"As customers gave them so much money, it became easier for them to carry on. However, those involved should have known when to stop. Because of them, everyone is now suffering," he said.
He also said it was unfair to put all the responsibility on the government.
On the trial of the new payment system, he said he disagreed that a relationship of trust was necessary to conduct business.
"The escrow system is complicated and may not work well," he said, adding that it would take time to set up the whole ecosystem as well.
Hafizur also stressed on the need to improve consumer protection, including consumer rights, saying even formulation of laws meant people would suffer to get its benefits.
Rafeza Akhter Kanta, deputy general manager of the Bangladesh Bank's payment system department, however, said it would be difficult to do business in e-commerce in the future without adopting the escrow model.
But she admitted that since the escrow service was new and had to be started in a hurry, the model was still being developed. "Despite some complications, there was no better option than launching an escrow service at that time," she said.
She further said the money stuck in the payment gateway will be returned to the customers.
Fahim Masroor, CEO of e-commerce platform AjkerDeal, said the country's existing VAT tax policy was not conducive to online businesses as they have to pay several times higher than traditional businesses. He urged the government to take the matter into consideration.
Rezwanul Haque Jami, head of eCommerce at a2i under the ICT Division, said the government and non-government organisations have to work together to overcome the current situation in the e-commerce sector.