Over the last couple of years, Bangladesh has seen a huge rise in online businesses and entrepreneurs, most of which use common platforms like Facebook, Instagram and other online marketplaces such as Daraz, Pickaboo, Chal-Dal, etc.
During this pandemic, more than ever, everything from groceries to medicine is being delivered at the doorstep of the consumers in the backdrop of social distancing and "lockdown".
As more customers are gradually becoming habituated to such digital services, Bangladesh is witnessing an e-commerce revolution. However, it should be borne in mind that both the consumer and the seller need more protection for the growing transactions in the digital sphere.
Bangladesh has no uniform legal framework to govern the rights of consumers and sellers in the e-commerce sector. The Consumer Rights Protection Act 2009, The Sale of Goods Act 1930 and The Contract Act 1872 provides a regulatory framework but they severely require modifications to include the different facets of e-transactions.
The reason can be either that the acts came into force long before the concept of e-commerce emerged or that the available legal rules do not specifically concentrate on the digital-trade sector. However, the laws recognise the basic idea of rights and duties of both the parties, which can be applied principally in the e-transactions.
The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 includes the circumstances that constitute a breach of online consumers' rights that are taking place every day. According to Section 2(20)(d), deceiving people by false advertisements to sell a product or service is an act against a consumer's right.
But in the case of online purchases, in many cases, we see that the advertisements of the products on Facebook or open-online marketplaces are often counterfeited.
Moreover, some sellers do not allow a return or refund policy even after complaining. Although every business entity has its policies, due to lack of uniform guidelines sellers make customised rules which can be irrational and not transparent.
Some business owners even use this competitive platform to trick consumers into impulsive shopping. The option of giving a review is often not played out fairly and no one takes responsibility for paid promotions.
According to section 2(20)(e), it is an anti-consumer practice to not deliver products after receiving money and there have been numerous instances where the seller sent empty boxes or even closed down their page after taking advanced payment through any digital transaction platforms.
As stated in this act, no individual complaint can be entertained without the written permission of the Director-General of the Consumer Rights Protection Department. This cumbersome procedure deters people from seeking a remedy.
Moreover, when the transactions are made through digital payment methods and delivered through courier services, there is no scope of compensation even if the goods get damaged. This problem solely arises for the lack of specific provisions regarding the delivery and receipt of the goods sold through different digital platforms.
On the other side, sellers are being harassed by fraud customers who want cash on delivery services but deny to receive them when they arrive. The Sale of Goods Act 1930 and The Contract Act 1872 both have mentioned the rights and duties of sellers in a contract of sale.
But none of these applies in case of online sellers due to lack of knowledge and inapplicability of law in cases of online purchases. Often many customers keep the delivery man at the door and distort the label in the name of examining the products causing the products to be obsolete.
Sometimes sellers use the sample image from the internet which does not coincide with the product causing mistrust between buyer and seller. On top of that, a large number of online sellers are women and they face different types of harassment and cyberbullying.
Amid all these unregulated practices, the cabinet approved the draft "National Digital Commerce Policy, 2018", which is an outcome of continuous calls for e-Commerce reformation by the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB).
The policy is aimed to be implemented through the short term (2021), medium-term (2030), and long term (2041) action plan. The association is devoted to the development of the e-Commerce sector and they are yet to reach their full potential. One of the main challenges the association faces is lack of proper acknowledgement from the stakeholders and inadequate engagement among them.
Considering the exigency, the government shall recognise the new comfort zone of the consumers and identify this industry as a prospective one for our economy. The National Digital Commerce Policy is designed in a way whereby 2021 will accomplish a few targets including arranging awareness programs, fairs, and the formation of an expert cell at the centre to conduct research. In clause 3.2.1, it is mentioned that digital commerce institutions will abide by the existing guidelines of the Consumer Protection Act.
For the time being, many intermediary measures may precede the policies. Primarily, a timeline has to be prepared for the online business to get enlisted in the commerce website which will require the owner's detail for keeping a record.
After a certain time, no business will be allowed to be operated without getting enlisted. For that, consumers should be encouraged to buy only from the enlisted sellers which will eventually lead them to get enlisted.
With assistance from existing transaction mode, digital proof of purchase shall be introduced. The complaint lodging process should also be simplified and responsive. An individual shall be able to file a complaint using the receipt as evidence through an app or a google doc form.
Lastly, the definition of the anti-consumer act is a narrow one in the Consumer Protection Act and excludes many problems stated above. It should be amended and a proper code of conduct should be outlined which addresses all these ill practices.
Overall, since the National Digital Commerce Policy will take time to be implemented, the Consumer Protection Act needs significant modifications to expedite the uprising e-commerce platform during and after this pandemic.