The whole world is in the grip of the Corona epidemic. The whole world system has become fragile. Bangladesh is no exception. Since the first corona patient was identified on March 6, 2020, everything seems to have gone awry. Peoples’ silence - an aftermath of the lockdown effect is like the lifeless desert. Corona had put all under house arrest.
The country's activity had come to a standstill due to repeated lockdowns. All kinds of shops and shops were closed day after day. At this time, due to the epidemic, many people resorted to e-commerce platforms in search of livelihood. But how transparently are these e-commerce platforms working? Many people have lost their jobs due to Corona. According to a survey, a huge number of people have lost their jobs since the Corona lockdown. According to the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a private research organisation, 62 per cent of working people have lost their jobs in the past year due to the Corona epidemic. While many have been able to resume work, most have lost income. As a result, they are forced to reduce costs and fight for their survival. Low-income people have suffered the most. Most of them became unemployed in April and May 2020. Many returned to work later, but did not return to work as before. Moreover, the epidemic has lost a significant amount of expatriate work from abroad and returned to the country at this time.
However, a significant proportion of consumers are dissatisfied with the e-commerce business services. Numerous instances of breach of contract for the sale of goods have been reported regarding online business. Both buyers and sellers in the country are having issues with contract infractions which are resulting in payment anomalies. Therefore, the government is going to introduce digital payment infrastructure for transaction transparency. The issue of digital payment gateway demands a separate discussion and is therefore beyond the scope of this writeup.
Anyone can start an online business with a personal user profile, using different features of the various social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc. For instance, on Facebook, individual traders utilise Facebook groups and pages to display their goods with the intent of selling to group members or followers. Moreover, in comparison to individual profiles or any other online business platforms, Facebook Pages are gaining much popularity due to advanced features that assist both the buyers and the sellers to find one another.
Even before the Corona, the spread of broadband technology, the development of mobile telecom and high speed internet, led the government’s digital sector to encourage development of e-commerce and even F-commerce in the country. But e-commerce really took off during the Corona pandemic as more people took to ordering products online to avoid crowds with healthcare in mind.
In the meantime, there has been a lot of criticism about this growing digital commerce, especially the e-commerce sector. Some e-commerce companies have been accused of cheating consumers by showing one quality and giving another quality of product, providing substandard products, not giving products worth the money, not accepting returns of the products or not returning the money paid by the customer even after returning the product.
There have also been allegations that many buyers have been deceived into buying the wrong product. Showing one type of product online and delivering low quality or another product is a common complaint of buyers. Many times after receiving payment for the order, the Facebook page or website is closed without delivery of the product. As a result, shoppers are being deceived and losing interest in online shopping.
Police say the fake e-commerce pages were created on Facebook include Daraj Online, Daraj Online 71, Daraj Online Shop, Daraj Express, Daraj Online BD, Fashion Zone, Galaxy 24, Online Mobile Galaxy, Shopping Center Net, Shopping Zone.BD, Shopping Deals, Smart Shop BD, Winter Collection, Sonia Fashion House, Su Bazar Bid, Fashion House 24, China Fashion BD, BD Fashion, etc. We are also constantly seeing news of various e-commerce scams. Recently, some e-commerce companies called, Evaly, e-Orange, e-sirajganj shop, etc., promised to deliver products and collected money from thousands of people and then fled with billions. A man who paid money to one such said that he had borrowed that money. Now he had no choice but to sit on the roadside. Such cheated people are now seeking cooperation from the government against these fake e-commerce companies.
Many people after losing their jobs due to corona had migrated to these professions. Basically, there is a trap of cheating behind their profession. But in these difficult times, e-commerce could also be a symbol of independence and open a new horizon. After all online business is an universally recognised medium.
The scene of such deception when human life is in danger due to loss of work due to corona is undoubtedly sad. E-commerce is losing its beauty due to the deception of a handful of dishonest people. The expansion of such a hugely potential sector like the e-commerce should not be stopped in any way, it should be strictly controlled and monitored. Also people must be aware. There are always two sides to a coin. Just because a couple of e-commerce sites have cheated doesn't mean everyone is the same. Use those who are trustworthy, those who are able to provide quality products. There are several things buyers should keep in mind when shopping online.
1. Age of the page: See how old the page is. If you are not familiar, it is better not to buy from a completely new page.
2. Reviews: When shopping on Facebook pages, you have to see the previous positive and negative reviews. If the number of negatives are high, it is better not to buy from there.
3. Membership: Many professional e-commerce traders are members of e-cab. The members of this organisation have to follow many rules.
4. Brand Name: Whether the name of the organization is famous or correct, it should be taken into consideration. Many times fraudsters try to cheat by adding or swapping their names with famous brand names. But keep in mind, no famous brand changes their name from time to time.
To keep pace with the world, we need to enrich our online business. We need to build people's confidence in e-commerce. Strict action must be taken against those unscrupulous businessmen who are cheating people in the name of business. A specific plan needs to be adopted to keep e-commerce free from fraud. Because e-commerce can be a great source of employment for unemployed people and the younger generation in this critical period of Corona, through which new creative young entrepreneurs will emerge. In this age of globalisation, hopefully, they will take Bangladesh far ahead. Global online platforms are yet to gain permission for operating in Bangladesh, but a few are available that provide their services to Bangladesh consumers. On the other hand, the local online shops are using different internet based platforms against payment. Attention has been drawn to the fact that various internet based platforms are earning but not paying their taxes to the Bangladesh exchequer. Bangladesh needs an effective e-commerce policy, as well as the need for every person to become more aware while purchasing goods online. There is no alternative to public awareness in purchasing e-products. Visible initiatives are needed to ensure that e-commerce organisations that have already embezzled public money return them to the public.
The writer is a columnist & former Head of PRD at BUFT