Complaints from online buyers are many. Most buyers complain about being cheated with inferior products or even worse, paying up but not getting the product. But all that is going to change soon.
The government is coming up with e-commerce operation guidelines to protect the consumers and formulating policy support for easing the development of the e-commerce sector that is seeing unprecedented boom amid the pandemic.
The guideline will fix a delivery time limit after ordering a product. It will also specify a reimbursement guideline for customers if sellers fail to deliver within the specified time.
Violation of these conditions will result in financial penalties and closing of business operations of the e-commerce company.
An inter-ministerial committee headed by Hafizur Rahman, director general of the WTO Cell of the Ministry of Commerce, is now working on the policy that will also have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).
The policy has already been drafted and is expected to come into effect later this month once the cabinet gives its nod after experts and stakeholders concerned provide their opinions on it, Hafizur told The Business Standard.
After formulating the National Digital Commerce Policy in 2018, the government amended it last June but it does not have any rules and regulations concerning e-commerce.
The National Digital Commerce Advisory Committee has been formed comprising officials of various ministries and agencies to implement the policy containing 61 plans.
In its first meeting on Thursday, the committee decided to write a letter to the local government ministry to make sure that e-commerce operations guidelines are issued urgently and e-commerce companies can obtain trade licences to protect consumers' interests.
Hafizur Rahman said the pandemic has worked as a blessing for the e-commerce sector.
The sector has grown significantly over the last five months, he said.
He, however, said that consumer complaints have also increased significantly. "In particular, there are complaints of non-delivery of products and failure to refund consumers against undelivered products," he added.
It is not possible to protect the e-commerce clients with the existing Consumers' Right Protection Act, noted Hafizur Rahman, adding that the new policy will help to resolve various problems of e-commerce entrepreneurs besides ensuring consumer protection.
"The imposition of time limits for delivery and refund policy against undelivered orders in the guidelines will boost the confidence of the buyers and will also help the development of the sector."
According to the Ministry of Commerce and the E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-Cab), the market size of e-commerce business in the country increased by 26% in the first eight months of this year compared to last year.
Entrepreneurs expect the sector will grow more than twice the size of last year's size at the end of this year. For this, it is important to get policy support from the government and gain the confidence of the buyers, they added.
At the same time, various decisions are being taken including increasing the quota of e-payment and e-commerce.
The Ministry of Commerce is playing a vital role in the development of the sector.
The ministry has already provided e-commerce training to about 2,000 entrepreneurs.
During the countrywide shutdown, the government encouraged sale of perishable products including agricultural and food products, vegetables, fish and fruits through e-commerce.
The ministry has decided to sell onions using e-commerce outlets to increase its supply and make sure that onion traders cannot create an artificial crisis of this essential commodity in the market.
Ministry officials are discussing with the e-Cab on this matter.
People concerned said around 2,000 companies across the country are involved with e-commerce through websites. Besides, over 50,000 entrepreneurs are doing business online through their Facebook pages.
But thousands of buyers are complaining of fraud everyday to the commerce ministry and e-Cab.
Although complaints lodged against website based sellers can be settled by having discussions with them, the government does not have any way to stop fraud committed by Facebook-based e-commerce entities.
Hafizur Rahman said e-commerce businesses operated through Facebook have become a cause of great concern for the government. "We are thinking about how to bring them under one set of regulations and give them the opportunity to expand their business. The committee in another meeting will decide on the SOP of Facebook-centric e-commerce," he informed.
Referring to the rapid growth of the e-commerce sector amid the pandemic, Abdul Wahed Tamal, general secretary of e-Cab, told The Business Standard that even wholesalers and retailers started using e-commerce to run their businesses as regular businesses were shut down.
"Although the economy reopened in July, they have continued to sell online. In the last five months, more than 100,000 jobs have been created in this sector, including new entrepreneurs and deliverymen," he mentioned.
He, however, said there is no benchmark for e-commerce in Bangladesh.
"Some companies have started MLM business in the name of e-commerce. Some are not even delivering products even after taking the consumers' money in advance. Some others are switching products from the one displayed or ordered.
"Every day thousands of deceived buyers are lodging complaints, but it is not possible to protect them as there is no policy for this sector," he continued.
"If we can boost the confidence of the customers by ensuring transparency in the operation of e-commerce under the policy, it will be possible to create 500,000 jobs in the sector in the next one year. To that end, we need to introduce trade licences in the e-commerce sector and facilitate cross-border e-commerce transactions," he added.
Ferdaus Ara Begum, chief executive officer of the Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD), told the meeting of the advisory committee that a company must have an office to obtain a trade licence under the existing provisions.
"Entrepreneurs involved in e-commerce are not getting trade licences as they do not have offices. As a result, they cannot apply for bank loans," she added.
Noting that there is no system of valuation of virtual products or intellectual property rights in Bangladesh, she proposed solving these problems.
When questioned about this, Hafizur Rahman said e-commerce entities are now getting trade licences as IT businesses and retailers. "We will write to the Ministry of Local Government to issue trade licences in the e-commerce category by amending the trade license policy.
There are limited opportunities for e-commerce businesses to import products from abroad. Out of the travel foreign currency quota a citizen has ($12,000 per year), $5,000 can be used to purchase goods.
The e-Cab has proposed to the Bangladesh Bank to raise the import quota to $40,000 for e-commerce businesses. e-Cab said discussions are underway with the central bank in this regard.
Mostafa Abid Khan, member of the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission, said payments made to ride sharing service Uber on credit cards go directly to the United States.
Therefore, the central bank has to take initiative regarding the e-payment system, he added.
He also stressed levying value-added tax (VAT) on e-commerce transactions.