Victims of the digital boom

Online shoppers and traders share with Ahmed Shatil Alam why there are frequent complaints against big online commerce sites of the country

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In recent years, online shopping has gained momentum in Bangladesh, as a result of a steady increase in internet and mobile cell phone penetration and gridlocked traffic which discourages in-person shopping at the city areas. According to the online site businessmen and entrepreneurs, e-commerce sector is now booming and the e-commerce, which currently uses payment options like cash on delivery, card payment and e-wallet, in Bangladesh is now being estimated as a sector worth around Tk 400 crore, while some say it could be more than that. Stakeholders of the industry claim that this net worth is likely to double over the next two years.

The e-commerce business sector in Bangladesh, which began more than 17 years ago, is now experiencing 20,000 transactions daily, shared business insiders with New Age Xtra. Through better internet facility and encouragement from government, the industry has attracted many small andmedium entrepreneurs alongside the giant foreign companies. But unfortunately, many consumers are frequently complaining about frauds and other harassment at the hands of some online website managements and traders.

On the first week of this month, MarjinaTaj, a resident of Feni and mother of a child, had ordered a packet of baby wipes and a carrier bag for her child at Daraz.com- a multinational online marketplace. The number of her order was 300242539, worth Tk 1299 after discounts and including shipment cost, confirmed by Daraz.com on June 4, through a text message.  After couple of days, she received her ordered baby wipes but is yet to receive the carrier bag. ‘They (Daraz) sent me the baby wipes in couple of days right after the confirmation of the order. I do not know when I will get the bag,’ says Taj. She points out that she would have gone to a market physically to buy the bag if she knew these kinds of hassles are present with online shopping sites.

Taj had contacted customer care and later the respective department of Daraz.com, but still her issue was not resolved. Later she also complained on the facebook page of the very company, but received the same answers from Daraz.com over phone. On June 20, Taj found that she has been blocked from commenting on Daraz.com’sfacebook page. Unfortunately the bag was not sent to her till June 20, when the report was being written.

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New Age Xtra has received similar complaints from consumers against both reputed and little known online websites. Among the reputed sites some complaints were also found against electronic product based website pickaboo.com, ajkerdeal.com, food delivery website foodpanda.com, and grocery based website chaldal.com and kiksha.com.

In most cases the consumers say that the product they ordered are not delivered to them in due time. Others have complained of receiving products different from the ones they had chosen and ordered from the site.  Some consumers also alleged that sometimes the products received are found damaged or the companies take orders on out of stock products.

While talking to New Age Xtra, Jubair Islam, a Dhaka based graphics designer, shared that he ordered laptops twice from pickaboo. But he did not receive the item on time. Later, he was asked to order another product as the originally ordered product was ‘out of stock’. ‘When I tried to order the second time, I asked pickaboo customer care representative whether my desired product is available or not…they said it was in stock and promised me to deliver the item within next 48 hours,’ he says. However, after three days when the product was not delivered to him and pickaboo.com did not call him, Islam called pickaboo and was informed that the ordered product is not in stock. ‘I am fortunate that I had not paid through my card online. Otherwise I do not know how long it would have taken me to get the money back,’ he says.

Eager to buy a laptop for his work purpose, after a week Jubair Islam tried kiksha.com, another website that sell laptops and electronic products. He purchased a laptop from HP and kiksha.com charged him Tk 56,039 for the order on April 4 of this year. But, soon he was notified that the laptop is ‘out of stock’. ‘After I contacted kiksha, they refunded the money after a week as per their regulations,’ he shares.

Another consumer from Uttara, NazirChowdhury faced a similar situation after ordering two Polo t-shirts from the online store of Le Reve on June 9. ‘I had selected cash on delivery payment option. I received the text message on my mobile within a few minutes after placing the order. My order number was 3029. It was mentioned in the text that the products will be delivered to my address within three days. The next day, an official from the brand also called me and told me that the products will be delivered by June 12,’ says Chowdhury.

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But after waiting till June 14 when he still did not receive the products, he called the customer care number of the online store. ‘The official asked me to text him the bill number. I did so. Later I called that number twice on two different days to ask for updates. He said that he was outside and will review the situation after he reaches office. Finally he stopped receiving calls. I was forced to go to a Le Reve store on June 16 and bought the same T-shirts. Finally on June 20, a delivery person from Le Reve came to my address. But I gave him a piece of my mind and cancelled the order,’ says Chowdhury.

Consumer Complaint Centre under Directorate of National Consumer Right Protection (DNCRP) assistant director MasumArefin pointed out that they often receive such complaints from consumers. He, however, could not share the actual figure of the complaints they have so far received. ‘But we receive a “significant” number of complaints against the e-commerce sites, every month,’ informs Arefin.

He also shared that for the complaints and the dispute over any issue between the consumers and companies they have fined many e-commerce companies including Daraz.com, pickaboo.com, ajkerdeal.com etc. uptoTk 15,000. ‘Although we can fine these reputed companies as they have proper office location and identity, we often get complaints against some companies which have no physical office or any proper identity…they are running business through a website or a facebook page only,’ he says.

After visiting the facebook pages of aforementioned companies over last one month- New Age Xtra found at least 80 complaints on different grounds from the consumers all over the country.

AfzalHossain, director of E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh- country’s largest association of e-commerce based organizations, said that they receive about 20 complaints a week against online sites from the consumers.  ‘We get around two to three complaints per day…but often we can not do anything other than to suggest the consumers lodge complaints with the DNCRP,’ he says. ‘Actually we have 650 plus members. We can only act when the complaints are against any of these 650 entities,’ he adds.

He also shared that although the e-commerce business is booming with every passing year, there is no guideline or policy in place to regulate these e-commerce based companies. According to him, the absence of any policy is the main reason for such inconvenience of consumers. Insiders shared that although this sector was initiated in Bangladesh nearly 15 years back, the government has only recently started thinking about making a policy for this sector.

E-CAB general secretary Abdul WahedTomal informed that from the organisation they have formulated a draft policy which will try to ensure the rights of businessmen and consumers. The draft policy has been submitted to the Information and Commerce Ministry few months back for approval. ‘Once the policy is implemented, we are confident that the security of consumers will be ensured,’ he says.

He also shared that due to a lack of policy, sometimes the businessmen also face some problems regarding payments etc.

Consumer Association of Bangladesh, president GolamRahman echoed with Tomal as he stressed that it is the very responsibility of businessmen to pursue the government at formulating a policy that covers the rights of both consumers and sellers. ‘The policy should materialise soon as the industry is changing drastically,’ he says.

The former bureaucrat of Bangladesh Government also suggested both the Information and Communication Ministry and Commerce Ministry to formulate the policy as soon as possible.

Currently, most of the e-commerce companies are running with the help of just a trade license issued by City Corporation. These licenses are taken under different categories as there is no specific category for e-commerce sector, says Afzal. ‘Some are also operating through only facebook, which are not even licensed with city corporation or any other organisation…they just open a facebook page and sell items through it,’ he says.

In the case of fraud, he held responsible these ‘unlicensed’ businesses and says that big companies do not want to willingly harass consumers. These unlicensed companies often showcase something and sell some different to consumers to make more money, he says. ‘These companies sell low quality product to get more benefit in a short time,’ he alleges. When asked how many of them are presently in business, Afzal said that approximately 2000 e-commerce and 7000 facebook based businesses are operating in Bangldesh.

While talking to New Age Xtra, Shabab Din Shareq, brand manager of pickaboo.com, admitted about the problem and said that pickaboo is working on these isssues. ‘We are aware of the issue and hope in future such ‘out of stock’ issues will be solved,’ he says when the case of Jubair Islam was mentioned.

New Age Xtra attempted several times to communicate with the high officials from Daraz, Foodpanda, Chaldal, however, the officials did not receive the phone calls.