Consumers feel exposed to online scams

Retailers suffering from closure of stores have turned to online sale portals

Ahtisham Bashir June 09, 2020
Representational image. PHOTO REUTERS

PESHAWAR: While the coronavirus has disrupted all aspects of life, it is safe to credit the spread of respiratory disease for the significant increase in online buying. In Peshawar, an increasing number of retailers suffering from the closure of stores have turned to online sale portals.

"I couldn't afford the rent for three months without opening my outlet," said Azhar Ali, who sells the iconic Peshawari Chappal. Ali now has a group on Whatsapp, a widely used mobile messaging application. "I also have an online portal now, and I sell my product from home," Ali claimed. "I'm satisfied with the response," the purveyor added.

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The traditionally handcrafted chappal is not the only item that is selling online. With consumers, now mostly making limited tours of the markets and bazaar's in Peshawar, more and more items are available for online purchase.

From groceries to electronic gadgets, everything, according to one online buyer, is delivered to your doorstep. While it takes away the charm of strolling through the bazaars, and for some, the endless joy of bargaining, online shopping has made life easier during the pandemic. Some shopkeepers who can no longer afford to pay the rent are not selling their products through Facebook groups and pages.

Delivery services, according to one vendor, are outsourced. The online shopping facility, one buyer said, was particularly useful during the Eid period. "We were able to buy most items online and had them delivered for Eid," he said. Not everyone appears to be happy with online shopping facilities. Some buyers blame the online shopping sites for misleading the customers into buying items that are not even available.  "I was tricked into buying slippers from a Facebook page. The quality of the product delivered to me was nowhere close to what I had seen online," claimed Haroon, who ordered a pair of slippers from an online vendor based in Karachi.

The return policy, Haroon pointed out, was missing from the page when he tried to send the item back."Most pages don't even mention their return policy," the irked shopper said. Making the most of the pre-Eid shutdown, some online vendors ended up bagging a significant share of the overall sales. "Nobody cared about the quality at that point. Everyone wanted to make sure they had new clothes and shoes that they couldn't buy in shops due to Covid-19," claimed one shopper.

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The quality of products displayed online can be deceptive, said one expert, who deals with online merchandise. "Customers receive products that are of poor quality. That only reduced the trust in such services," he claimed.

With Covid-19 going nowhere anytime soon, the expert predicted a shift to online merchandise. "We will see more of it in the future," he said, referring to the growing trend of online shopping.Another customer, who feels, he was duped into buying a watch for Rs 3,000 said: "When it was delivered, it appeared to be a counterfeit version of the product displayed online." On the other hand, delivery service providers take no responsibility for damaged products. "We are not responsible for the quality of the item," said one deliver service provider."That raises the need for consumer protection. We need to safeguard buyers, and the public, against unfair practices in the marketplace," said one expert who deals with online sales.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2020.


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