India to bring more digital services under e-commerce ambit

Services like food and grocery delivery, online pharmacy may get included in e-commerce guidelines.

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E-commerce guidelines for consumer protection that earlier focused only on online retailers may include other digital services such as video streaming, online ticket booking, and ride-hailing, local media Economic Times reported.

According to a senior official from consumer affairs ministry, the preliminary draft published last month is being revised and will be posted again to get public comments.

“While there’s not too much ambiguity on the product side, on the services front there are many different sectors we will have to take into account,” the official said. The revised draft may propose “specific rules for different online services as problems consumers face are quite different between services,” the official told Economic Times.

First released on August 2,  e-commerce guidelines for consumer protection, seek to protect “personally identifiable information” of consumers and curb unfair trade practices that may directly or indirectly influence the price of the goods or services to maintain a level playing field.

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs that sought comments from the stakeholders by September 16 on the proposed e-commerce guidelines has extended the deadline for comments to October 31.

According to the guidelines, e-commerce firms are required to submit a self-declaration regarding compliance to the ministry. To ensure the veracity of the sellers listed on the platform, e-tailers will have to display their details including the legal identity of their business, website, e-mail address and contact information.

The proposed guidelines for e-commerce firms entail a 14-day deadline to effect refund request and require disclosure of contract with the sellers relating to return, refund, exchange, warranty/guarantee, delivery, mode of payments, grievance redressal mechanism etc. The draft also stipulates that the promoter of the e-commerce website should not have been convicted of any criminal offence punishable with imprisonment in the last 5 years.

Meanwhile, LocalCircles, an online platform for consumer feedback which works with several government departments in the country, conducted a survey to identify online services that consumers would like the e-commerce guidelines to cover.

Sachin Taparia, founder of LocalCircles, said it received over 63,000 responses from the public that identified 15 online services that should be included in the draft policy. The list entails services such as e-pharmacy, online grocery, food delivery, carpooling, payments, accommodations, content, reselling, ticketing and gaming among others.

“Some of the issues faced by consumers on e-commerce services include non-disclosure of convenience fee by travel/event ticketing apps, medicines on e-pharmacy apps not showing best before dates, last-minute ride cancellations by drivers, home maintenance service worker committing theft, among others,” Taparia said.

As many companies have developed sites and apps which provide services to consumers through e-commerce channel, Taparia believes, it is time that along with products, services are also included in the definition of e-commerce by the government.

Taparia said LocalCircles has submitted these findings to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs to consider under the guidelines.

According to a February 2019 Morgan Stanley report, India is adding one internet user every three seconds and the e-commerce sector in the country is set to reach USD 230 billion by 2028.