Online shopping: Consumer rights for fairer digital marketplaces

Published: March 15, 2018
Body for consumer rights urges govt to finalise, implement e-commerce policy. PHOTO: REUTERS

Body for consumer rights urges govt to finalise, implement e-commerce policy. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: With some still reeling from the after-effects of Black Friday sales — debates on whether it should be called White Friday notwithstanding — a network for consumer protection has urged the government to finalise an e-commerce policy to ensure that fairer digital marketplaces are built which consumers can trust.

The call came on the eve of World Consumer Rights Day which falls on March 15. The Network for Consumer Protection is observing the day in collaboration with Consumers International, an umbrella body of over 200 member organisations in more than 100 countries, aiming to create a ‘Better Digital World’ by promoting access to fair and secure internet services, action against scams and fraud and better protection online.

The network pointed out that e-commerce has transformed the way that people shop, giving consumers more choices than ever before apart from making products and services accessible.

In 2017, global e-commerce sales reached $2.29 trillion, and are expected to double to $4.49 trillion by 2021.

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However, it noted that this has also global issues globally, including the nearly 70 per cent of online consumers who worry that their digital payments are unsafe or whether they are buying a genuine product. Moreover, with half the world’s population still, offline, it poses a challenge to bring these people online.

Nadeem Iqbal, the chief executive officer of The Network for Consumer Protection said that the size of the e-commerce market in Pakistan is rapidly growing and currently stands at around Rs65 billion and is expected to reach Rs100 billion by 2020.

“With such a growing market size there is an urgent need for putting an e-commerce policy in place to develop supportive financial services regulations, provide import and export regulations, establish and regulate e-commerce establishments,” he said, adding, “A consumer perspective should also be added to the policy framework as it is more important to gain trust in e-commerce as compared to conventional business.”

The network said they have asked Commerce
Minister Pervaiz Malik to finalise and implement e-commerce policy.

With strong, safe and secure internet access also essential to shop online with confidence, Iqbal said that many consumer organisations will also be calling for better access to the internet across the country.

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Moreover, half of the people with internet access choosing not to shop online due to trust issues — owing to fear of unexpected and dishonest costs, illegal and fraudulent scams or from unfair, unclear and confusing business practices.

These barriers and fears, Iqbal argued, constitute a significant impediment to the further development of the digital economy: when consumers mistrust businesses, they are discouraged from using new digital products and services. To address this lack of trust, he urged authorities take action to prevent scams and companies have clear terms and conditions, fair pricing and good redress procedures because growth on the supply-side of the digital market presupposes consumer trust on the demand-side of the market.

“Online shopping has opened up choice and convenience on a scale never seen before. But this does not equal trust. We definitely require a strong e-commerce policy, which not only safeguards the businesses but also focuses on the consumers.  We want consumers to be sure that their data and payments are secure and the products they buy are safe,” Iqbal said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2018.

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