Experts have opined that e-commerce platforms need to give the most importance to the rights of consumers, while regulators should be vigilant to ensure that consumers are not deceived by buying products online.
They also said thousands of complaints against some companies come to the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, but they are not doing enough to this end.
Their remarks came at a discussion titled ‘E-Commerce at the forefront during Covid-19: how can it become more responsible to consumers?” which was streamed live on The Daily Star’s official Facebook page on Saturday.
Zeeshan Kingshuk Huq, co-founder and CEO of Sindabad.com, moderated the programme.
“How much discount or cashback an e-commerce platform will give to its customers is entirely up to them. But if you take money from one customer and give a discount to another customer, the end customers will be at risk,” said Fahim Mashroor, former president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services.
His remark came amid the Bangladesh Bank’s investigation centring financial transactions and other activities of e-commerce platform Evaly.
“In the last one or two years, we have seen various incidents where the depositor’s money has disappeared. As a result, thousands of investors have become destitute.”
“So, we don’t want any e-commerce customers to face such situations,” he added.
According to him, from March to June this year, the whole e-commerce industry became Dhaka-centric.
“For the last four or five years, e-commerce platforms have been trying to take e-commerce out of Dhaka and were somewhat successful. But due to coronavirus, it suddenly became Dhaka-centric due to the loss of connectivity. However, with the gradual improvement from May to August, e-commerce distribution across the country has upgraded a lot,” Mashroor said.
He said internet data connectivity has expanded during the pandemic as broadband has gone to the village which is very positive for e-commerce in the long run.
According to Mashroor, the internet payment system has also been improved.
“While mobile financials such as bKash, Nagad and rocket account holders have increased, transaction volume has witnessed a surge in last six months,” he said. “This is a huge infrastructure development.”
However, he said e-commerce platforms are lagging behind in logistics which is the single most important driver of the sector.
Although e-commerce has witnessed a sharp increase during the pandemic, it has not grown as much as it should have because of lack of smooth supply from manufacturers and weak distribution channels, said Waseem Alim, CEO of Chaldal.com, one of the first online grocers in Bangladesh.
“We have seen 2-3 times growth in our sector, but not as much as it is thought to have increased ten-fold,” he said.
“We do not know whether this growth trend is permanent. It can also be temporary. I am not seeing the growth now that I saw after July. No doubt e-commerce has grown but not that much. So we have to be more careful,” he said.
“When the pandemic began in the country on March 25, none of us had to give advertisements, incentives, or discount coupons to attract customers. There were so many orders that we didn’t have the capacity to deliver,” said Asikul Alam Khan, CEO of PriyoShop.com.
“This increase was limited to essential commodities. However, the order of lifestyle products: clothes, smartphones etc. was completely closed,” he said.
According to him, from July, the order of smart devices increased because everyone then started work from home digitally.
“Overall it can be said that a habit of online shopping has developed among the people in this pandemic. Now if we can give customers a better experience then people will shop online in the future,” said Khan.
Regarding the excessive cashbacks and discounts provided by a particular ecommerce platform, Ashish Chakraborty, director of SSL Wireless, said “How many offers an e-commerce platform will give to its customers should be determined by the respective company. This is what companies all over the world do for customer acquisition.
“The e-commerce platform will also set the pre-payment issue itself.”