Spread of online marketplace in the absence of proper regulations has resulted into a massive jump in complaints related to the companies operating through digital platforms.
The number of complaints against the digital business platforms has gone up by 1500 % in last four years. These complaints are related to delivery of fake products, damaged or substandard items, delay in refund of money etc.
Officials of the Consumer Affairs ministry said that complaints against e-commerce platforms have increased manifold in recent years. Number of complaints in the year 2013-14 was only 5204 and in the year 2017-18, the number witnessed sharp rise as it crossed the mark of 78,000 which is like massive 1500 % rise.
A senior official of the ministry of consumer affairs said that majority of the complaints (about 22 %) are of paid amount not refunded.
“In many cases, consumers are duped by the companies as the purchase amount for orders booked by consumers is deducted by the e-Commerce company but the order is not actually delivered to consumers,” said the official.
Delivery of defective product is another common grievance of the consumers purchasing products from e-commerce platforms as it comprises 17 % of the total number of the e-commerce related complaints. Other complaints are of different nature like deficiency in services, non-delivery of products, delivery of wrong product and others.
“Consumers complain that the amount got deducted, but they were not provided the promised services. It has also been seen that many e-commerce companies do not mention the complete grievance redressal mechanism with hierarchy on their websites and consumers have to face difficulties in redressal of their complaints,” added the official.
Consumer Rights expert Bejon Misra see it as a natural phenomenon. “Complaints are bound to rise as people prefer to buy products online. But, what is more important and shocking is that there are complaints about fake products, damaged products and there are refund related issues which is a serious matter and it should be looked into by the authorities,” he said.
Officials said that there is national consumer helpline to look into the consumer-related issues and consumers can approach consumer courts for punishment on their complaints.
But, Misra, also founder of Consumer online foundation, said that consumers have been given the least priority by the state governments. “Nobody wants to go to consumer court for a product of Rs 500 or so. But, it is the duty of authorities to protect the consumers with regulations. Here, responsibility lies with the State government and they should come out with stringent punishment. But, that is not happening” he added.
Even the government agreed about complaints against e-commerce platforms. “Consumers are facing problems while doing transactions in e-commerce,” Minister of State for Commerce and Industry C R Chaudhary said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha this week. He said that complaints relating to delivery of defective and damaged goods and also non-delivery of products are being received in the National Consumer Helpline, being run by the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Centre has introduced the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 in the Lok Sabha on 5th January, 2018, which seeks to provide for an executive agency to be called the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), which will prevent unfair trade practices. Provisions have also been made in the proposed Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 for framing of rules for preventing unfair trade practices in e-commerce having consumer focus.