The e-commerce platform has been ordered to stop offers for cashback and 40-60% discount and several government agencies are investigating its activities
If something is too good to be true, it probably is -- could very well be the narrative of Evaly, the e-commerce juggernaut that has become part of the national discourse with all sorts of marketing chicanery.
Bangladesh does not have a functional e-commerce policy yet -- and it is this loophole that Evaly exploited to the maximum.
From giving 100 per cent cashback or more to taking advance payment and not giving the option of cash-on-delivery, from not giving any time frame of when the goods would be delivered to not giving refund in cash, Evaly played fast and loose all along when it came to customers.
CYCLONE OF CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS
It is no surprise then that Evaly’s Facebook page is packed to the rafters with angry customer messages.
One such aggrieved customer is Md. Kamrul Islam, who had placed an order for a speaker for Tk 700 on July 14 last year. Then on January 26 this year, Evaly cancelled the order but Islam is yet to get his money back.
Then another customer Hridoy is still waiting on the router he had ordered on December 19 last year. The router costs Tk 1,600 but he got it on Evaly for Tk 771. The product though is yet to arrive.
What’s worse, he cannot get hold of the Evaly customer care to know the status of his order.
“I also posted on the Evaly’s Facebook comments box several times to get their attention but a bot replied every time,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Another customer, who preferred to stay unnamed, had ordered a massively discounted refrigerator for Tk 16,650 back in November.
“Earlier I bought several products that were slightly delayed. But this time, it has been several months and I still did not receive my product. They are saying they are taking the necessary steps but what is that step I don’t know. I did not get the product yet,” the customer told Dhaka Tribune.
Like Hridoy, this customer too is unable to get hold of an Evaly customer care representative to find out the status of his order.
“It has been more than 145 days,” said another aggrieved Evaly customer Sayed Tareq.
He has been reporting the non-delivery of this order on all mediums but in vain.
“I am just disgusted,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Uzzal Chowdhury from Narail is fortunate than the rest in that he got his order, a Winmax mobile phone, within a decent timeline. But the catch is that the product is faulty: the charge does not hold for more than 10 minutes.
He has been reporting the problem, but in vain, like the rest.
“I want a solution. If I don't get one from Evaly, I will file a case,” he left a comment on the e-commerce platform’s Facebook page.
Many such customers took the matter to the Directorate of National Consumer Right Protection, which prompted the commerce ministry to form a high-powered committee to probe the e-commerce company’s misdeeds.
THE GHOST OF GIFT CARDS AND CASHBACK
Evaly brought customers to its site by offering cashback ranging from 80 per cent to 150 per cent against the purchases.
If a customer bought a product worth Tk 100, they found their digital Evaly wallet was credited with Tk 80-150 soon after.
But the problem is, people can never use the amount in their digital wallets in full and the balance has a use-by date.
Shafiqul Alam, a resident of Matlab, Comilla, told Dhaka Tribune he had bought two Evaly gift cards for Tk 55,000 but had not been able to buy any product by using them yet as he cannot use more than 60 per cent of the balance on the cards.
He sought to extend the expiry date of his gift cards. But all disgruntled customers before him, he too got no satisfactory response.
A home ministry instigation report stated that not allowing customers to use 100 per cent of their cash-back or gift card balances was a fraud and that the accused party could be imprisoned for a maximum of seven years, under Section 420 of the penal code.
Meanwhile, on February 15, the Bangladesh Competition Commission has given Evaly until February 24 to remove all cashback offers as well as discounts of 40-60 per cent.
“We will see whether they obey the order or not. If they do not comply, we will take actions against Evaly and file a case for a criminal offence,” Md Mofizul Islam, chairman of BCC, told Dhaka Tribune on February 25.
When Evaly first grabbed the public’s attention, its Managing Director Mohammad Rassel had told the media that they could offer astonishingly low prices as they purchased products in bulk, directly from the dealers who purchased directly from the manufacturers.
For instance, the Indonesian R15 V3 motorcycle that sells for about Tk 5.25 lakh everywhere can be bought for Tk 2.88-3.15 lakh at Evaly.
Dhaka Tribune contacted the manufacturers of some of the products that are selling at a discount not available elsewhere.
“Evaly can at best receive 8 to 10 per cent in discount after purchasing mobile phones from us, as well as 15 per cent for refrigerators,” said Mesbah Uddin, chief marketing officer of Fair Group, which manufactures Samsung products in Bangladesh.
The discount applies to all e-commerce platforms.
As of 6:45 pm on February 25, the latest flagship handset from the South Korean electronics giant, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G, was selling for Tk 80,000, when its retail price was about Tk 1,22,999.
“We do not discriminate among our dealers and end-users. Evaly is using different discount systems, which is beyond our control. We can give them a 15 per cent discount at best. But even then the price difference between our discounted products and what Evaly quotes is astonishing,” Uddin added.
The retail price of a Samsung 253 litre refrigerator is Tk 44,900. On Transcom Digital, Daraz and other e-commerce platforms, it is selling at Tk 40,900. But on Evaly, the same model was selling for Tk 28,630 a unit as of February 24.
Similarly, the Asus ZenBook 14 UX425JA Laptop-Core i7-10th Gen, which costs Tk 1.02-1.24 lakh, can be bought for Tk 63,240 on Evaly as recently as February 24.
Asked whether Evaly purchases products directly from them, Shafiqul Alam Shohan, head of ASUS system products, answered in the negative, meaning Evaly does not get the factory price.
No consumer level company including Evaly can buy product directly from manufacturer -- they have to buy through dealers, he added.
This begs the question: how does Evaly provide such huge discounts? Is it burning cash, as most start-ups tend to when they start, to win market share?
Curiously, Evaly’s paid-up capital when it started in 2018 was just Tk 30,000. At present, it is Tk 1 crore. And there are no reports of Evaly welcoming new investors.
WHY DID THE INDUSTRY TRADE BODY NOT STEP IN
“We were aware of Evaly’s activities but we cannot take any legal action against them,” Abdul Wahed Tomal, general secretary of E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB), told Dhaka Tribune.
In the absence of the guideline and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to the National Digital Commerce Policy 2018, the e-CAB cannot do much, he said.
“We have been asking the commerce ministry for a guideline for a long time.”
Frustrated, the e-CAB drafted a guideline itself and submitted it to the commerce ministry two months ago.
“The guideline will be finalised soon, I hope,” Tomal said, adding that there should be a more effective law to prevent such acts from e-commerce companies.
‘THAT WASN’T ME’
Sources said Evaly is trying to deflect the allegations by claiming that another organisation with the same name is committing fraud by taking customers' money and not delivering products.
“We came to know that another company used Evaly's name and took crores of money from the customers. Probably a case has been filed in this regard. We are doing further investigation on this,” said Mostofa Kamal, special superintendent of CID's organised crime division.
WHERE THE GOVERNMENT STANDS
After one too many allegations surfaced against Evaly last year, a multi-pronged investigation was initiated by several government agencies, including the DNCRP, commerce ministry, home ministry, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Bangladesh Bank.
An investigation team from Bangladesh Police was given the task to conduct thorough scrutinisation, after which at least eight types of fraud and irregularities were detected.
Those included five sections of the Penal Code 1860, two sections of Consumer Rights Protection 2009 and one section of Digital Security Act 2018. The existing law has provisions for imprisonment for a maximum of seven years for such offences.
The home ministry recommended that the commerce ministry instruct Evaly to do business following the existing laws and policies and submit a monthly report to the commerce ministry and the DNCRP on how many orders it has received and how many products it has delivered.
On February 18, Jinnat Rehana, deputy secretary (admin) of the commerce ministry, sent letters to BB Governor Fazle Kabir and Mostafa Kamal Uddin, home minister's senior secretary of the public security division, requesting further investigation into Evaly’s affairs.
"Our team also found evidence of business malpractices against Evaly. We already told the related agencies to take action against Evaly and give us a report on this issue," Rehana told Dhaka Tribune.
Another letter was sent to Babul Kumar Saha, director-general of the DNCRP, asking to send a report every month after monitoring how many orders Evaly had received and how many of those had been delivered.
The commerce ministry also wrote to Md Hafizur Rahman, director-general of the WTO cell of the commerce ministry, asking him to direct Evaly to follow cash-on-delivery in business according to the Consumers' Rights Protection Act, the national digital commerce policy of the ministry, and the rules and regulations of e-CAB.
"We received the letter and are working on this. We will take our actions soon. Besides, we will send Evaly an instruction to maintain their system with cash on delivery," said Rahman, who is also the head of the national digital commerce cell.
He also said they are about to finalise the e-commerce policy and take the necessary steps to implement this.
Dhaka Tribune contacted Rassel for his comment on the report on February 14. He sought time to respond. At the time of going to press, no response came from him or Evaly.