“E- Commerce isn’t the cherry on the cake, it’s the new cake”
The lives of people in today’s era has become fast and devoid of time. In such an era, quick and easy access to goods and services has helped e- commerce usher in as one of the most sought after means of shopping or availing other services. The customers are now able to buy products and avail services with just a click. These platforms are equipped not only with the facility of quick delivery, but are also stuffed with tons of options to choose from. Without any need to leave the house, the customers can avail all the information about the products, alternative options, and even recommendations and reviews of other customers in order to make an informed decision.
While this platform has become one of the most convenient means to buy goods and avail services, people, over the time started encountering various issues and violations as well. The prevailing consumer protection laws, with regards to these digital markets, in various cases proved to be infructuous, and these e-commerce giants started to get away from the shackles of the law even after causing customers huge losses.
Therefore, a much-needed change was brought into the consumer protection laws of India and an amended Act was enforced, namely, Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (the “Act”). The Act introduced changes to the existing Consumer Protection Act of 1986 so as to address the unique issues faced in the times of digitization and e- commerce.
Under the Act, the Central Government is empowered to make rules for preventing unfair trade practices in e-commerce, direct selling and also to protect the interest and rights of consumers. This led to enforcement of Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 2020 (the “Rules”).
These Rules are implemented with the motive of putting a stop to any practice which may harm the customers and makes essential goods inaccessible to them. It also restricts posting of any fake reviews or description of goods on the e- commerce market places. One of the biggest problems faced by the consumers while availing the services from these digital platforms was tracking down of the wrong doer, in case the customer has been cheated or defrauded. The Rules therefore ensured to bring in a proper grievance redressal mechanism in place.
As per the Rules, each of the e- commerce entity is required to establish an adequate grievance redressal mechanism and also appoint grievance redressal officer for the purposes of attending to such consumer complaints. These grievances, as laid down under the Rules, would include complaints of every nature pertaining to violations of the Act and/ or Rules and are to be addressed within 48 hours of the complaint. The details of the grievance officer, including his contact details are to be provided on the e- commerce platform. Due to the pandemic we experienced increasing reliance over such e- commerce platforms as most of us were unable to step out of our houses. This also led to increasing instances of cheating the customers.
Recently on May 17, 2021 the Central Government, by way of notification has mandated appointment of a nodal officer or an alternate senior designated functionary. Such Officer shall ensure compliance with the provisions of the Act or rules made under it. It is necessary for such officer to reside in India. This Rule would ensure that the grievance redressal, along with other compliances are abided by an e- commerce platform. The new provisions of the Act and the Rules empower the customers to voice their grievances as well to ensure that fair market policies are followed. The introduction of the rule for appointment of nodal officer during the pandemic further ensures that e- commerce entities do not attain laxity in their approach towards the compliances in the law and undue benefit of customers’ needs is not obtained. It was necessary to introduce a compliance mechanism along with the grievance redressal so as to ensure double- checks.