Many online shopping portals have made their online presence recently .The recent trend suggests that this phenomenon is going to stay for long for various inherent advantages available for consumers. Let’s see what those advantages are.
1) People can identify the products sitting comfortably in cozy and homely atmosphere of their home or office and all family members can enjoy shopping.
2) They can compare various features of the products at one location and without interference of anyone, who can influence their selection.
3) They can clarify their doubts and fully satisfy themselves prior to finalizing the products.
4) They can see all available colors/designs and make final selection.
5) They can see various ratings like customer satisfaction, delivery time etc. about the intended purchasing and then finalize the same.
6) They can even see the products catalogue which they will never be shown in any shop either due to various reasons including financial or social status etc.
7) They get huge discounts on various products due to elimination of Distributor/Dealer network and many promotional ongoing schemes which rarely reach to the end users etc.
8) Many products provide for free trial for specified time period without any additional charges in case consumer wants to return the product.
9) Free home delivery is available and payment on delivery facility is also available on many products.
10) It saves travelling time/parking tensions/rush at busy hours and long wait for being served by salesman etc.
11) They may even get 15-20 days payment credit by some shopping portals and also some reward points etc.
So when such huge advantages are available for consumers why someone will complain about the very existence of online portals? But there is darker side of these online shopping portals also which needs to be brought to notice of the consumers.
Though advantages of online shopping portals can not be undermined there are some inherent risks and which needs to be highlighted.
1) How many people can make a choice about which is safe portal and which is unsafe?
2) How many people know that there are many fraudulent online shopping portals in existence?
3) How many of us believe that there are legal provisions for regularizing the online shopping portals?
4) How many of us know that many web portals are selling stolen or counterfeit goods?
5) How many of us are sure about the quality or genuineness about the products sold through online portals?
6) How many of us know what remedy is available if something goes wrong while carrying out online shopping?
7) How many of us are sure that details provided by us to the online shopping portals will not be misused? And what if the details contain your sensitive personal information including your banking details etc.?
8) Are there any provisions for mentioning names and physical addresses of administrator, compliance or grievance officer etc. on online shopping portals?
9) When consumers are cheated by such on line transactions is there any mechanism in place or any remedial measures available to consumers?
10) How to find out authenticity and reliability of any website?
11) What precautions should be taken for safe online payment transfer?
12) Do police entertain complaints against online shopping frauds or cite inability to act due to geographical constraints?
13) Like Consumer protection act do consumers have any grievance redressal mechanism available in case of online shopping complaint?
14) Does online shopping portals are subject to any taxes from Government?
15) Does there is scope for Tax evasion by this medium?
16) Does there is prohibition of sale of banned items through online portals in specific geography? Can it be effectively monitored?
17) Does Government have any monitoring mechanism to control or regulate Online shopping mechanism?
18) Does online portals violate of principles of Fundamental Rights of Equality as they don’t have any regulatory mechanism whereas offline Retailers/Traders have been subjected to various regulatory mechanisms like shop and establishment act, registration of firms etc.
19) Does online shopping portals are a posing a big threat to various self employed Distributors/Dealers/Retailers/Resellers/Vendors/Hawkers and many more sections of the society? Will this lead to serious unemployment problem in India?
20) Do we face risk of Data invasion while shopping through online portals? Does our digital footprints are saved and processed for our own exploitation?
21) What rights these shopping portals have to invade into someone’s Privacy?
More and more such questions needs to be answered.
The online shopping portals are new welcome phenomenon but it should be monitored and controlled so as to protect rights of consumers. For offline stores there are various legal provisions but for online shopping portals there are none and these amounts to discrimination which needs serious debate and discussions.
My sincere urge is for healthy discussion about the existing provisions for hosting and conducting business through online shopping portals and in case of non availability of such rules and regulations how to frame the necessary regulations at the earliest in the interest of protection of various consumers from such few fraudulent online shopping portals.
Advocate Mahendra Limaye
Cyber Legal Consultant