Products presented online to the buyers should have a clear description for the consumer to have a realistic idea of what they are buying
Responding to the growing impact of digital platforms on the current economic progress of the country and challenges posed by them, the Ministry of Commerce on Sunday issued operational guidelines for the e-commerce sector.
The guidelines bring e-commerce operations under closer scrutiny by the government, says the Vice President of the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) Sahab Uddin Shipon.
“Its purpose is to ensure transparency and accountability, and consumer protection in digital commerce operations by creating employment through the expansion of digital business, and to take measures in boosting consumer confidence and rights by bringing discipline in digital business operations.
“It will also help create new entrepreneurs by building a competitive market system,” he added.
Shipon noted the guidelines protects sellers against bad market practices as digital businesses have to clear merchant payments within 10 days of product delivery.
“However, if there is a different agreement between the owner of the marketplace and the seller or the merchant, the debt can be paid accordingly,” said the e-CAB vice president.
According to the issued guideline, an agreement must be executed between the marketplace authority and the seller or merchant before the sale of goods or services through the marketplace.
During an online event on Tuesday, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said the guidelines contain clear directions on how information on products and services should be clearly mentioned by marketplaces, as well as that on product delivery and advance payments.
“We hope this will help customers,” he told reporters.
According to the guideline, products presented online to the buyers should have a clear description for the consumer to have a realistic idea of what they are buying.
Additionally, the terms and conditions regarding the purchase of the product, such as return policies, potential price change policies, delivery method and time, or product change policies should also be displayed by marketplaces.
Digital marketplaces will also need to display detailed information of sellers or merchants, i.e., third-party users providing goods or services online.
Furthermore, according to the guideline, the terms have to be written in Bangla as well.
However, SM Nazer Hossain, the vice president of the Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB), told Dhaka Tribune that although the guidelines help consumers in contrast to the previous policy, it needs focus.
Hossain also pointed out that in terms of consumer complaints and compliance by the digital marketplaces, the guideline failed to mention detailed instructions following a complaint by a customer.
As per the guideline, marketplace authorities will have to take appropriate action for complaints about products and services and appoint a compliance officer who can coordinate with other agencies, including the Department of Consumer Protection.
In case of failure to comply with the instructed guideline, the authorities will take legal action against the marketplace.
The Commerce Ministry has also urged consumers to lodge any rights violations with the National Consumer Rights Protection Directorate and other courts for legal redressal and e-CAB will assist the authorities.
In regards to transparency, the guideline also instructs to use “Available for Delivery” instead of the quantity of stock and prohibits marketplace or sellers to manipulate comments from buyers about products or services that should be posted on websites, apps, or platforms.
Nazer said the move to present availability in such form was in response to e-commerce platform Evaly’s abusive use of stock quantity.
However, Aulad Maruf, a consumer who uses digital marketplaces regularly, explained this was much needed for consumers to understand terms and conditions by overcoming language barriers.
Furthermore, sharing his experience in online buying, he highlighted the need for consumers to know about the expiry date of products.
“As a buyer, I am not able to see the expiry date of products online. It is easy for a seller to sell products that will expire within the next week. In the case of products that are bought quarterly or half-yearly, that is a big issue,” said Maruf.
However, the guideline has provided instructions for perishable goods to be delivered as soon as possible and prohibited the sale of expired or adulterated goods.
Syed Almas Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information (BASIS), explained to Dhaka Tribune that the guidelines will not just ensure consumer rights and safety but data privacy as well.
As per the guidelines, if there is any special software or cookies on the seller’s website, the buyer needs to be informed in advance.
If any personal information needs to be collected the consumer’s prior consent must be obtained stating what information will be collected, where the information will be stored, and how it will be used.
“Cookies are generally good. It helps a user to enter personal data and information in a faster manner. However, it can be easily abused. A marketplace saves consumer data through cookies, some part of which can sometimes be a very private matter. Consent is very important in this regard. The data owner should know how, when, and where the data is being used,” explained Kabir.
Digital marketplaces have also been instructed to obtain at least one trade licence that has to be displayed in the marketplace or social media page. A Unique Business Identification Number (UBIN) will be made mandatory for all digital commerce organizations in phases as per the guideline.
Additionally, market places will have to obtain a licence from the Department of Drug Administration for the purchase and sale of medicines and medical supplies through digital means.
In all cases where there is an obligation a certificate from a quality controlling authority also needs to be obtained.
However, the BASIS president feels the guideline on foreign digital marketplaces to obtain registration needs to be clarified further.
As per the guideline, foreign marketplaces have to obtain a local licence.
“I use booking.com. Will the digital marketplace need to register locally for me to avail its services as a user? Underlying issues like this need to be clarified,” he added.
Digital marketplaces think the new policy is beneficial for both buyers and sellers as it will make the transaction for both parties more transparent, reliable, and secure.
A top official of an e-commerce business told Dhaka Tribune that the move will enable more accountability for digital marketplaces and sellers as Facebook-based untraceable marketplaces have mushroomed recently, following which consumer deception has also increased.
Eshita Sharmin, managing director of Bikroy.com, said: “We welcome the new policies for e-commerce business operations in Bangladesh. This is a ground-breaking example that will help shape and boost the growth of the e-commerce industry in our country.
“Although we do not have any direct inventory in our stock and most of the dealings are done between the buyers and sellers, we have decided to collect a valid NID before allowing any member on our site.”
According to a report by Cyber Crime Awareness Foundation, more than 11.48% of customers of the e-commerce sector were deceived last year from various e-commerce and Facebook commerce (f-commerce) websites. The number was previously 7.44% in 2019.