NEW DELHI: To protect consumers' interest, the Centre has proposed guidelines for e-commerce firms that entail a 14-day deadline to effect refund request, mandate e-tailers to display details of sellers supplying goods and services on their websites and moot the procedure to resolve consumer complaints.
The consumer affairs ministry has sought views of stakeholders on the draft guidelines on e-commerce by September 16. Meanwhile, the government is planning to come out with a national e-commerce policy to facilitate achieving holistic growth of the sector.
Among key guidelines, the e-commerce companies will also be required to ensure that personally identifiable information of customers are protected. "Such data collection and storage and use comply with provisions of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008," the ministry said.
That apart, e-commerce firms should be a registered legal entity under Indian laws and should submit a self-declaration to the ministry stating that it is conforming with guidelines. The proposed rules outlined that a promoter or key management personnel should not have been convicted of any criminal offence punishable with five years imprisonment.
The companies should also comply with the provisions of IT Rules, 2011. They are also required to display on their websites details about sellers supplying goods and services. The industry said it is still studying the broad contours of the guidelines. "We are evaluating the draft guidelines and look forward to participating in the deliberations to help finalise an operating framework," a Snapdeal spokesperson said in a statement.
The spokesperson said this will enable the sector to offer a high standard of consumer protection at every stage of an e-commerce transaction. Flipkart and Amazon India spokesperson said the company is still examining the draft guidelines.
Social community LocalCircles founder Sachin Taparia said currently, consumers face difficulty in holding e-commerce firms accountable in case of fake products as platforms do not disclose seller details or their general terms.
These guidelines if enforced will change that. "The key areas that have been covered in the rules include preventing price influencing, addressing counterfeit, improving integrity of reviews as well as increasing transparency of terms e-commerce have with sellers and disclosure of seller information," he added.
The draft guidelines state that e-commerce companies should not directly or indirectly influence the price of the goods or services and "maintain a level playing field." The companies should not adopt any unfair methods, falsely represent themselves as consumers, post reviews about goods and services in their name or exaggerate the quality of goods and services.
To ensure transparency in dealing, the companies are required to display terms of contract between them and the seller to enable consumers to make informed decisions. They should also mention safety and health care information of the goods and service advertised for sale and give information on payment methods. The companies are required to effect all payments towards accepted refund requests of the customers within a period of maximum of 14 days.
On sellers liabilities, the norms proposed sellers to display total as well as break up price for the goods or service including charges like delivery, postage and taxes. They should also comply with mandatory display requirements as per Legal Metrology (amendment) rules 2017 for pre-packaged commodities.
They should also provide mandatory safety and health care warnings and shelf life that a consumer would get at any physical point of sale. These companies are also proposed to be held responsible for any warranty/guarantee obligation of goods and services sold.
The draft guidelines laid down that every e-Commerce entity will publish on its website the name of the Grievance Officer and his contact details as well as mechanism by which users can notify their complaints about products and services. It said that the Grievance Officer shall redress the complaints within one month from the date of receipt of complaint.
The move comes even as the government has tightened norms for e-commerce firms having foreign investment, earlier this year.
The e-commerce sector in India has been witnessing an explosive growth fuelled by the increase in the number of online users, growing penetration of smartphones and the rising popularity of social media platforms.
According to a February 2019 Morgan Stanley report, India is adding one Internet user every three seconds and the e-commerce sector in India is estimated to reach USD 230 billion by 2028, accounting for 10 per cent of India's retail.