In an effort to curb sale of counterfeit products online and “unfair” trade practices by e-commerce companies, the government has drafted guidelines aimed at making these entities and their sellers more transparent and accountable to consumers.
The guidelines formulated for this purpose include conditions mandating e-commerce firms to accept returns on “defective” and “spurious” products and measures directing them to display details of their sellers.
The e-Commerce Guidelines for Consumer Protection 2019 will be applicable on all business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce platforms, according to the Department of Consumer Affairs, which has sought feedback from stakeholders by September 16.
According to the draft, a copy of which The Indian Express has viewed, the government proposes to make it mandatory for e-commerce entities to accept returns in the event the products delivered are “defective, wrong or spurious” or if they do not have the characteristics or features advertised.
E-commerce companies will also have to display details about the sellers on their website.
These include identity of the seller’s business, legal name, principal geographic address, products they sell, their website, email address and other contact information along with details on how customers can contact them.
The e-commerce firm also has to clarify what sort of business entity the seller is, the guidelines state.
Currently, several e-commerce sites, including popular shopping and restaurant platforms, do not furnish full details about their sellers and consumers have to return goods, regardless of whether or not they are counterfeited, within a specific timeline.
The draft guidelines also propose to increase transparency in contracts signed between e-commerce entities and the sellers, directing them to display terms of their contracts relating to aspects like return, refund, exchange, warranties and guarantees, delivery and shipment, mode of payments and redressing grievances.
This is to enable consumers to make “informed choices”, it states.
The draft has also sought transparency on the procedure followed to address complaints, directing e-commerce companies to publish contact details of their grievance officers on their websites and setting a one-month timeline for them to redress issues from the time the complaint is registered.
E-commerce platforms will also not be allowed to “directly or indirectly” influence the price of the products and services they offer, according to the draft.
It also says they cannot adopt any trade practice “for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply” of any goods or services or use “unfair” and “deceptive” methods and practices that may influence the consumer’s transactional decisions.
The guidelines also aim to restrict sellers from “falsely” representing themselves as consumers or posting reviews as well as misrepresenting and exaggerating the quality and features of products on their sites.
“Currently, most e-commerce platforms don’t disclose seller details or their general terms with them, so the consumer has very little in their hands to hold them accountable in case a fake product is received or a return is rejected. These guidelines, if enforced, will change that,” said Sachin Taparia, founder of community engagement platform LocalCircles, which conducted the preliminary consumer consultations for these guidelines.
He expects the guidelines to be applicable to e-commerce businesses like inventory-based platforms, marketplaces for new and used goods, service-based platforms like ride-hailing applications, food delivery platforms, travel and hotel booking services, event ticketing platforms and online pharmacies.
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