Abstract

Due to advancement of technology electronic commerce has become a fundamental part of our daily life. In the era of electronic commerce, consumers are provided with number of search engines to buy products and services through online mode. Although the process of e-commerce has reached to its growth by allowing internet access to both consumers and business but still the e-consumers are looking forward to have laws for the protection of their rights in online transactions. This short note has focused on the recent issues and challenges in e-consumer protection in India. The analysis and comparison of consumer protection laws has been done in brief to provide an effective mechanism and redressal for the protection of consumer rights in the period of e-commerce. 

Introduction

In the world of digitalization, electronic commerce has achieved an extraordinary growth by allowing the access to Internet trade. Through its reach all over the world it has several benefits for both the consumers and business, as it is an efficient way of entering into transactions. It has provided active and joint plan of action to both, the consumers and the retailers. The growth of the electronic commerce can be measured from the rise of people using the electronic means as a policy to trade. E-commerce has become the key prospect in the modern era of advanced technology. It is a means of providing consumers or buyers with large variety of choices as compared to the traditional way of commerce because buyers can come across through different number of products from anywhere in the world by accessing online site. Moreover, it has enhanced the speed and accuracy with which businesses can interchange information.

E-consumers have the similar desires and necessities like the traditional consumers. In most of the jurisdictions the laws related to consumer protections are seems to be feeble. Primarily consumer assurance involves around that the consumer gets the products that he expects and if the product is found defective, then the remedy is available to him. Building the trust is even greater in e-commerce than the offline trade. Challenges that hurt consumer trust and confidence can be traced in consumer protection laws in India. Consumers are known as the king of the market thus there is need to develop laws and policies to ensure safety of consumer transactions in e-commerce. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 recognizes laws dealing with unfair trade practices but it has failed to mention consumers who buy products online. To further enhance the consumer welfare in the world of digitalization new act i.e. Consumer Protection Act, 2019 came into force. This short note has scrutinized the recent trends in consumer law in electronic commerce and the challenges faced in protecting the electronic consumers in India.[1]

Recent Trends in e-consumer protection in India

In India e-commerce has become a flourishing business not because of the access to the Internet but also due to expansion of business units beyond their geographical location by making transaction to any part of the world. As the India’s e-commerce is growing, there are number of issues arising for the protection of the consumers through this platform. It is evident that the Internet has provided consumers with powerful tools to search for goods and services through online mode. Electronic commerce is more than a technology and has become an integral part of doing business and trade at global level. Despite of immense growth of e-commerce, e- consumers are looking ahead for pertinent consumer protection rules and regulations for the recognition of their rights on electronic transactions. We can consider that promotion of e-commerce is indirectly a platform for promoting the consumers activities, which focus mainly on the goods and services to be delivered but the legal authority for online transactions is somehow lacking to protect the consumers.[2]

Privacy is one of the main concerns when it comes to the protection of consumers at the time of online shopping. The process of e-commerce is impossible to complete unless the personal details and identity of user is mentioned. Thus, it is very important for e-commerce to consider or to maintain the privacy of the consumers. The mechanism for authentication and identification needs to be followed to deal with the concept of violation of privacy of a person. E-commerce can reach to its highest potential in the world of technology only when the consumers are given the same level of protection as traditional users or consumers. Online frauds and scams through misleading the information or non-availability of information have caused a deep impact on the consumer’s interest and confidence in the online markets. Consumer assurance is a vital part of consumer safety, thus lack of awareness regarding the online portals, privacy is considered to be the important reasons for the entrance of consumers in the trap of fraudulent transactions.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 in India regulates the laws related to the consumers and unfair trade practices of service and good providers. There is no mention of single provision that deals with the consumer protection law that is for the regulation of online transactions. Under this act the liability arises whenever there is a “deficiency of services” or “defects of goods” or due to occurrence of “Unfair trade practices”. The act of 1986 completely excludes from it the provision the protection of e-consumers. If any fraud happens to a consumer in an online shopping than the Consumer Protection Act will not apply. Jurisdiction Courts are facing countless encounters in the recent years when e-commerce case was filed before the forum of consumers. Due to lack of jurisdiction, most of the cases are struck down and no reliefs are given to the consumers. There are various Judgments delivered by the Judges to remove the arbitrariness in the matter of jurisdiction. Concerning the protection of e-consumers in e-commerce, the Act of Consumer Protection, 2019 has introduced major provisions, which will deal with the concept of correct information and issues of jurisdiction in e-commerce. To resolve the consumer disputes in e-commerce transactions, there is a need to set up an appropriate mechanism under the consumer protection laws. The legal system has to try constantly to consider the enhancement of various laws under Consumer Protection Act to deal with the emerging issues from the use of Internet by the consumers.[3] 

Issues and Challenges

In today’s time buying and selling things have become very easy due to the introduction of e-commerce. People are just one click away from their desired product or service. The digitalization has ushered and immensely grown in a fresh new era of e-commerce and brought advanced customer expectations. The digital age has brought easy access, variety of choices and time saving modes of shopping for the customers. Due to surge of digitalization, the new act Consumer Protection Act, 2019 came into place, replacing decades old Consumer Protection Act, 1986 that came into force on 20th July 2020. New consumer protection laws were required for the drastic change in market functions, as the international trade and e-commerce activities were increasing rapidly. There are various rights have been given to a potential consumer like Right to safety, Right to be informed, Right to choose, Right to be heard, Right to redress, Right to consumer education through which a consumers would free protected and could willingly make a satisfactory choice among the available products. Due to rapid boost in the popularity of e-commerce, the proposed amendment attempts to include e-commerce transactions under the scope of the Act. Under the current Consumer Protection Act, a consumer can initiate legal proceeding against a seller only where the transaction has taken place. The new Bill contains an enabling provision for consumers to file complaints electronically, and in consumer courts that have jurisdiction over the place of residence of the complainant[4].

Despite the fact that several changes has been done in consumer protection act but various challenges still pose to be a threat to the probable consumer confidence and trust in e-commerce transaction. As there is absence of particular redress forum for e-commerce transactions, consumers still afraid to enter into any kind of agreement with e-commerce entities. The websites do not provide the address or any identity number on which a consumer could rely on and buy the product. There is absence of proper break-up value of product also by which a consumer could know where he is spending and how much he is investing in a product and on what things his money is going, and when it comes to oversees e-consumer’s are not interested in spending their money with foreign e-commerce entities as it is a time consuming and expensive procedure therefore filing a complaint against an e-commerce entity based oversees can be challenging as the question of jurisdiction gets complicated.  Business entities are constantly innovating, adapting new technologies and evolving challenges in the area of e-commerce.

There are various challenges that can be seen in e-commerce by the e-consumer’s are as follows:

1. Unfair trade practice and misleading advertisements.

2. Language barriers.

3. E-commerce offers made by anonymous traders.

4. Uncertainty of merchantability goods.

5. Un-understandable refund policies.

6. Lack of clear and sufficient information regarding the seller.

7. Absence of identity of e-commerce entities.

8. Non-fulfilment of returns or refund policies.

9. Long and tedious procedure of refund procedure.

10. Data security and online scam.

11. Identity theft and frauds.

12. Late or no delivery of goods or defective products without any exchange or refund policy.

13. Lack of consumer awareness of their rights and duties.

14. Absence of Cash on delivery system.

15. Fraudulent entities that take money without providing goods or service.

16. No- existence of customer care.

17. Protection of personal data or privacy.

18. Non- compliance with the legal provisions[5].

Because of these issues and challenges an e-consumer afraid from investing in goods or service available with e-commerce entities.

Solutions

There should be a transparent method in respect of payments which is to be adopted by e-commerce entities, there should be proper compliance with the rules and regulations given by the government in various statues, presence of proper break-up value of the products for e-consumer, absence of unfair trade practices and misleading advertisements or offers made by the e-commerce entities which could influence the purchase decision of a probable consumer.

Conclusion

The enforcement of Consumer Protection Act, 2019 can be seen as a sincere act of the government which has enhanced the rights of consumer, elevated the punishments and speedy disposal of pending cases. It has innovated in certain ways and even mentions about the e-commerce entities, which was an unaware term during 1986. In this digitalized world, it was necessary to amend the existing laws as the way of selling and buying goods and services have also shifted from offline to online. But there should also be mention about e-consumer’s and their redress forum, which could boost the potential consumer to buy things online and feel protected through it. Consumer awareness and knowledge about the e-commerce platform should be enhanced by the way of media and newspaper publications. And lastly the e-commerce entity engaged in selling the goods and services should provide for proper internal working structure that would guarantee the consumer protection and enforcement of consumer rights. Therefore, it can be concluded that, socio- economic development can be traced every month so we can expect more amendments to the act hence the proper compliance of Consumer Protection Act, 2019 can be seen with the upcoming time.

[1] https://revistas.unlp.edu.ar/ReDIP/article/download/6354/5418/

[2] http://www.researchgate.net

[3] http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/755BA66E-1F56-447F-A2A2-FA160F1D43D2.pdf

[4] https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/no-time-to-lose-on-consumer-protection/article22071821.ece1#

[5] https://unctad.org/meetings/en/SessionalDocuments/cicplpd7_en.pdf

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Author: Kanchan Awana – Email- Kanchan.awana11@gmail.com | Co- author: Sanya Upreti

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