Consumer rights and responsibilities in the age of e-commerce

Consumer rights and responsibilities in the age of e-commerceConsumer rights and responsibilities in the age of e-commerce
Highlights

Around the world, every year March 15 is celebrated as the World Consumer Rights Day — an annual...

Around the world, every year March 15 is celebrated as the World Consumer Rights Day — an annual international occasion that connotes celebration and camaraderie in the international consumer movement. The very purpose of this day is respecting consumer rights while safeguarding them, as preferred by the consumers. The consumer movement was first marked in 1983 on this date. The theme for World Consumer Rights Day 2019 is — 'Trusted Smart Products'.

The contemporary world has been transforming sharply at the same pace as that of the transformation of the technology itself. Beyond doubt, the emergence of smart technology has given a vast number of openings for consumers such as access to new services, with several options and greater expediency.

In fact, it was in 1999 that the concept and implementation of e-commerce came into force when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) adopted the first International Instrument for Consumer Protection in the framework of e-commerce. Subsequently, following the review of existing policies, recommendations were made to embrace the idea of e-commerce.

Bygone are the days when people used to plan and do shopping, to meet their needs. The advent of the Internet and its various applications have facilitated everything at the doorsteps of the consumers. Incontrovertibly, online e-commerce offers a responsive and smart environment for the customers and eases the business options by making them available round the clock. However, the development of e-commerce poses a number of legal and consumer challenges too.

It should be recognised that e-commerce is pretty much extensive than consuming network-based technologies to conduct online businesses. There arises a need for a complete transformation of business operating measures that go beyond traditional practices. For this to happen, a comprehensive reengineering of the existing systems is solicited.

The heart of e-commerce lies in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that brought industrial revolution in the contemporary aeon. More specifically, it is the Internet, the eighth wonder of the world, which made the globalisation and glocalisation possible. A business associated with the Internet is straightaway global in reach with no extra asking time and price. Presently, one-third of all the business transactions conducted electronically is undertaken through Internet-based e-commerce — an intensely pro-consumer application.

Electronic commerce, which is more commonly expressed as e-commerce, is nothing but a business or commercial transaction that encompasses the transmission of wide-ranging information across the Internet. As its major characteristic, e-commerce allows consumers to electronically exchange goods and services without any barriers of time or distance. Basically, e-commerce is of three types: B2B (business to business); B2C (business to consumer); and C2C (consumer to consumer).

For the reason that the exchange of goods and services involves the use of the Internet, there arise a few major consumer concerns that include such matters as security, privacy, fraud, access, dispute resolution, terms and conditions, fees and charges, and another most important problem — jurisdiction issue. Globalisation and glocalisation have turned the businesses into enormously large cybernetic markets. In addition, consumers have unlimited choices.

However, in unison, the e-commerce transactions are equally associated with complexities and greater risks. For example, when a business goes online, it is subject to the jurisdiction and schemes of law pertaining to a particular country in the world. It is not reasonable, per se! The seller may belong to one nation while the buyer may be a resident of another nation.

Thus, the seller's connection with the jurisdiction of the purchaser may be isolated and tenuous. Laws associated with businesses are fairly and persistently in flux. They also vary significantly from country to country — and even within a country. Then again, when consumers go online, they may lose the benefit of domestic consumer protection laws. Even this is not fair.

The idea of e-commerce has taken its form as the technology is leaping with unmatched speed. Ease of doing business through e-commerce has reached the apex, globally. Nonetheless, the consumer protection laws in India need to go a long way before they comprehensively address the rights of the consumers of e-commerce. Due to the discrepancies and loopholes in consumer protection laws, the consumers who participate in e-commerce, for sure, experience some sort of problems.

In addition to the laws that are in force for the protection of consumer rights, the responsibility of a consumer also becomes vital. Such responsibility plays a very important role in assessing the genuineness of the product being offered in the online market and thereby restricting unnecessary consumption. A self-imposed responsibility by the consumer is always better — such responsibility is based merely on ethics and rationale, for there are no perfectly defined set of consumer responsibilities as such.

The Internet has become a source of many frauds. In spite of various preventive measures, the consumers are being trapped on the platforms of e-commerce. The modus operandi for such frauds is vigorously captivating a number of techniques. Therefore, a consumer needs to be very agile while doing any online transaction.

(The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass media books)

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