Authorities still pondering on which policies will help end consumer suffering
Capacity enhancements and proper coordination among regulatory bodies and stakeholders can bring an end to the suffering of both consumers and businesses of online stores.
To this end, regulatory bodies, associations, and the special e-commerce committee formed by the Commerce Ministry, have proposed capacity enhancements, as well as a framework of coordination among several bodies.
The Commerce Ministry has already initiated several steps in bringing all business entities of the e-commerce sector under registration by the implementation of Business Identification Number (BIN).
Apart from the registration framework, the recently formed e-commerce committee as well as the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) has proposed establishing a central complaint management system spearheaded by the consumer rights protection agency and a central tracking management system by the Bangladesh Post Office.
“If implemented, this will bring back a sense of control to the consumers of the sector who are facing huge trust issues in ordering online, and bring back discipline to the sector that has been plagued by rogue e-commerce platforms through accountability,” a top e-CAB official told Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday.
Experts also advised the automation of the escrow system, which was introduced in July to regulate the rogue e-commerce platforms from taking advance payments from consumers.
However, due to the escrow system being run manually, Tk214 crore of customer money has been stuck with Payment Gateways entailing SSLCommerz, Foster Payments, bKash, Nagad and others.
However, when Dhaka Tribune reached out to numerous of the payment gateways, they explained that the money was stuck with the institutions as they adhered to the SOP guidelines of the government and Bangladesh Bank.
The current escrow system being manual has delayed the whole process of the funds being disbursed by gateways, as funds have to be released against purchased vouchers and product delivery or refund confirmation documents. The manual process takes a lot of time in just the verification process, while the gateways cannot go against the guidelines of its regulators, another e-CAB official explained.
Customers placed orders worth Tk490 crore with 25 companies since July earlier this year, when the government enforced Digital Commerce Operation Guideline 2021 and have received deliveries of products worth Tk280 crore.
The government on Monday assured returning the funds stuck in payment gateways to customers stating that the central bank will take steps in this regard.
Bangladesh Bank will take steps to return the money to the affected consumers within the next three months, said Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi.
The minister provided the assurance following a high-level meeting on e-commerce held at the Ministry of Commerce with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the industrial trade adviser to the prime minister and the State Minister of the ICT Division.
During the meeting, stakeholders also proposed the use of artificial intelligence apart from using technology to modernize the escrow system, central complaint management system, central tracking system, and registration system.
In this regard the ICT Ministry has already started to develop software within the next three months that would increase capacity enhancements of various regulatory bodies according to the commerce minister.
“The use of AI, software and capacity enhancements will help regulatory bodies to identify absurd transaction patterns and alert authorities quickly, if implemented properly. What takes weeks or even months for humans to analyze can be easier to process for AI which can identify discrepancies easily,” BASIS president Syed Almas Kabir explained.
When Dhaka Tribune reached out to a consumer, who had ordered products from one rogue ecommerce platform and did not get delivery or refund, prior to the escrow system introduced, he said: “I see people complaining that their money is stuck with payment gateways, but they were lucky to have placed orders after July. I think my money is gone, I will never get it back.”
Stakeholders also think existing laws would be sufficient to regulate the sector.
“If more laws are introduced that means there are more regulations. In the business perspective that just means the ease-of-doing business for us gets further complex with the local market already having several challenges in this regard. Doing business in Bangladesh is already very tough. Existing laws should be enough to regulate businesses,” the founder of a popular home grown e-commerce platform, requesting anonymity, told Dhaka Tribune.
According to insiders, the effective coordination between regulatory bodies to identify discrepancies quickly and take actions would be more crucial.