India: New e-commerce rules place online shoppers at the centre

Photo: Reuters

When Arun Pushker, 42, a professional photographer in Lucknow, received a mobile handset he had ordered online at a discount of 500, he realized it was a refurbished product. The fact it was refurbished had not been stated in a clear, readable manner in the description and he had missed the fine print.

“I contacted the seller and said I wanted my money back, but they kept transferring my calls to different people and made me wait for extended periods of time,” said Pushker. After trying for months, he finally gave up and decided to keep the phone, left with no choice.

Pushker reflects what millions of online shoppers in India often face, and are left with a damaged product or without a proper grievance redressal process.

It helps that the new Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) has also been given sweeping powers to book those violating consumer rights.

The law comes at a time when consumer preference is rapidly moving online and India is expected to witness a huge surge in online shopping in a post-covid world.

Arun Saxena, President, International Consumer Rights Protection Council (ICRPC) said the new rules enable consumers to file complaints in their own district instead of previous binding of filing complaints in the district where the e-commerce portal has an office.

Bhavani Sarkar, 51, a teacher in Kolkata, recently ordered a sofa set at a good price from a reputed e-commerce portal. It promised a 15-20 day delivery and she paid the entire amount online. The 20-day period passed and she received neither the sofa nor any intimation from the seller. When she checked the seller’s details on the website, they had disappeared.

Sarkar contacted the portal, as the third-party seller’s contact information on it was not complete. After several calls, the customer care executives told her a 15-day investigation would be launched, and if her claim was found to be credible, her money would be refunded. Sarkar finally recovered the amount, but she had to jump through hoops to resolve the issue.

“…The newly framed e-commerce rules shift the regulatory winds and prescribe a host of compliances for ring-fencing the e-commerce activities and preventing unfair trade practices. This fits the Government’s recent pattern to seek even greater control over dotcoms venturing into Indian consumer segment,” said Rishi Anand, partner at law firm DSK Legal.

Harsha Razdan, partner and head, consumer markets and Internet business, KPMG in India said the new rules notified have been envisaged keeping consumers and their rights at the centre and to aid informed decision-making via ethical and transparent communication.

A big challenge posing online shoppers is how to identity counterfeits and many don’t have access to information on sellers listed on marketplaces.

“…Now, people can go to e-commerce websites, draw out details of seller and redress queries, file complaints or take any legal recourse,” said Sachin Taparia, chairman and founder, LocalCircles, a community social media platform.

C. S. Sudheer, founder and CEO at IndianMoney .com and IamCheated.com, that helps e-commerce customers recover their money if they are cheated, said unless the law enforcement agencies execute the Act in its entirety, it won’t make any difference.

“…Large e-commerce companies have practiced these and are part of their user agreement, which 99.9% customers won’t read before purchasing. If that is being made as a part of the product listing, then it would be effective. Ultimately, this depends on the law enforcement agencies and awareness among the public,” Sudheer said.

This article was first published on livemint.com.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

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  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.