Policies under preparation to regain consumer confidence in the e-commerce sector

Authorities are still considering policies that will help end consumers’ suffering

Capacity building and good coordination between regulators and stakeholders can end the suffering of consumers and online store businesses.

To this end, regulatory bodies, associations and the special e-commerce committee formed by the Ministry of Commerce have proposed capacity building, as well as a framework for coordination between several bodies.

The Ministry of Commerce has already initiated several steps to register all business entities in the e-commerce sector through the implementation of the Business Identification Number (BIN).

In addition to the registration framework, the newly formed e-commerce committee as well as the Bangladesh Electronic Commerce Association (e-CAB) proposed to establish a central complaints management system led by the rights protection agency. consumers and a central tracking management system by the Bangladesh Post Office.

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“If implemented, it will bring back a sense of control among consumers in the industry who face huge trust issues when ordering online, and bring discipline back to the industry that has been plagued by disruptions. Dishonest e-commerce platforms through accountability, ”a senior e-CAB official told Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday.

Experts also advised automating the escrow system, which was introduced in July to prevent rogue e-commerce platforms from receiving prepayments from consumers.

However, due to the manually executed escrow system, the customer’s Tk214 crore of money was blocked with payment gateways involving SSLCommerz, Foster Payments, bKash, Nagad and others.

However, when Dhaka Tribune contacted many payment gateways, they explained that the money was blocked with the institutions because they followed the SOP guidelines of the government and the Bangladesh Bank.

The current escrow system being manual, has delayed the entire process of disbursing funds through gateways, as funds must be released against purchased vouchers and product delivery or reimbursement confirmation documents. The manual process takes a long time only in the verification process, while the gateways cannot go against the guidelines of its regulators, another e-CAB official explained.

Customers have placed orders worth Tk 490 crore from 25 companies since July earlier this year, when the government enforced the 2021 Directive on Digital Commerce Operations and received shipments of products worth from 280 crore Tk.

The government assured the return of funds stranded in payment gateways to customers on Monday, saying the central bank will take action in this regard.

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The Bangladesh Bank will take action to return the money to affected consumers within the next three months, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said.

The Minister gave this assurance following a high-level meeting on electronic commerce held at the Ministry of Commerce with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the Industrial Trade Advisor to the Prime Minister and the Minister of State of the Division ICT.

During the meeting, stakeholders also proposed the use of artificial intelligence in addition to the use of technology to modernize the escrow system, the central complaint management system, the central monitoring system and the registration system.

In this regard, the Ministry of ICT has already started developing software in the next three months that would increase the capacities of various regulatory bodies, according to the Minister of Commerce.

“The use of AI, software, and capability enhancements will help regulators identify absurd transaction patterns and quickly alert authorities, if properly implemented. What takes weeks or even months for humans to be scanned may be easier to deal with for AI who can easily identify deviations, ”said BASIS President Syed Almas Kabir.

When Dhaka Tribune contacted a consumer, who had ordered products from a dishonest e-commerce platform and had not been delivered or refunded, before the introduction of the escrow system, he said: “I see people complaining that their money is stuck with payment gateways, but they were lucky enough to have placed orders after July. I think my money is gone, I will never get it back.

Stakeholders also believe that existing laws would be sufficient to regulate the sector.

“If more laws are introduced, it means there are more regulations. From a business perspective, this just means that the ease of doing business for us becomes even more complex, with the local market already having several challenges in this regard. Doing business in Bangladesh is already very difficult. Existing laws should be enough to regulate businesses, ”the founder of a popular e-commerce platform, who requested anonymity, told Dhaka Tribune.

According to insiders, effective coordination between regulators to quickly identify deviations and take action would be more crucial.