The commerce ministry has already prepared a draft policy for web-based e-commerce companies. In the draft, it is mentioned that e-commerce companies have to ship products to buyers within seven to ten days after completing orders, depending on delivery locations.
In my opinion, there should be this kind of bindings in the policy so that companies cannot deceive customers. For example, a customer has paid in advance for a certain product, and the company has given a timeframe of 30 days to deliver the product. The customer also agreed on the proposition.
But often we see the customer cannot get the desired product within the timeframe. The delivery timeframe, in this case, will not allow these companies to break the rule, and stop the MLM business.
However, I think it would be better if we set the timeframe depending on product category, rather than a general one.
For example, for perishable goods, the timeframe should be less than seven days. Because, if you are ordering vegetables or medicines, you would like to have it delivered to you as soon as possible. There is no use of such products if you do not get it on time.
On the other hand, if we set this timeframe for B2B dealings, it might be troublesome. For example, if retailers are ordering in bulk amounts, the manufacturing and assembling processes take time. Also, bringing the products from suppliers can even take more than a month.
This is normal, and we must give them the lead time. So, a timeframe of seven to ten days for B2B deals will not work. Thus, the regulation can be relaxed in such cases.
To protect consumer rights, there should be a substantive law in the regulations, which would ensure that customers get the exact product they have ordered. Companies should ensure transparency about the product in terms of colour, weight, country of origin and price. If transparency is not ensured, the supplier might say they had not promised to give the product shown in the advertisement.
If the customer remains unsatisfied with the product, they must get a full refund or even a partial refund after deduction of service charges. The regulators must ensure that consumers get this right, and they should include a return policy in the regulation.
If we can ensure inclusion of the above policies, the companies will not send faulty or low-quality products to customers. Because doing so will only create hassles for them as the refund rate will rise and they will lose their credibility. On the other hand, such policies will also encourage a consumer to order more products online, and the e-commerce companies will gain trust.
It might not be possible to return the item instantly. But like in developed countries, there should be clear instructions for customers about a certain timeframe they can return the product within. For example, within three to seven days. Also, if a company says it will refund within seven days, it needs to be ensured as well that the customer gets the refund within that timefreame.
We also need to initiate escrow services in the e-commerce business. With an escrow service, a consumer will be able to stay confident by paying in advance. They will know that the money is safe with a third-party operator and it will only be released after they confirm that they have received the right product.
And if the product is unsatisfactory, the consumer will return the product and get their money back. Thus, the consumer will have peace of mind, and will order more online. As we have not initiated escrow service yet, around 70 percent of people still prefer the cash on delivery method. But to digitalise the system and become a cashless society, we need to initiate escrow services as soon as possible.
Apart from these, there should be nothing illegal or invalid in the terms and conditions of a company. We are often required to accept the terms and conditions to buy something from a website. As there are many conditions, we often accept it without going through the details. Thus, there should be no conditions which can be used against consumers.
Also, there should not be any browse-wrap or clickwrap on the website. Through these, a company does not even show the terms and conditions. It is assumed that consumers have accepted the terms and conditions as they are clicking on, or viewing the website.
Additionally, we often see disclaimers that say the seller is not liable for the goods sold. This cannot go on. A seller must be liable for the goods they are selling. Because they know what they are selling, and they must take the liability.
Finally, companies must ensure data privacy of users. They should not ask for any unwanted data that is not required for delivery of the goods. For example, there is no need to know the gender or age of a consumer. And they must ensure data security so that it does not get in the hands of a criminal who can later exploit the consumer.
The regulatory body is drafting a policy for web-based e-commerce companies. But many sellers market and sell their products through social media. This is known as the f-commerce market, and its size is around Tk312 crore. So, if we say that you cannot buy products from them as they do not have licences, it will be a massive loss for the industry.
There should be a policy for them as well to ensure consumer rights. And the policy should not be very rigid. For example, a homemaker who is selling products from a village will certainly face trouble if she needs to obtain a trade licence.
But if we can give them registration numbers like those provided to freelancers by the government, the sellers will be able to show that they are registered, and the consumers will also be able to rely on them.