Responsibilities of Online Pages/Stores as per the Digital Commerce Operation Guidelines
Bangladesh has a growing digital commerce industry and online shopping has slowly gained immense popularity among consumers of the country. This in turn has given rise to many online selling platforms as it provides a lucrative business opportunity for many entrepreneurs. The problem is that many of these rising businesses do not have proper knowledge about the legal guidelines they have to follow while running such online platforms.
On 4 July 2021, Digital Commerce Operation Guidelines were issued by the Ministry of Commerce in accordance with the Digital Commerce (Amended) Policy of 2020. These guidelines were created with the objective of protecting the rights of consumers and setting a framework for creating a competitive market for the entrepreneurs. It includes responsibilities for the online stores run via social media or websites as well as restrictions on the kind of product they can sell. A simplified version of the guidelines applicable for the stores is provided in the following paragraphs.
Presentation of products or services for sale
Firstly, the seller has to specify details of the product like measurements, colour, material, quality and quantity of ingredients in clear terms and descriptions so that the consumer is capable of identifying it.
In addition, the price of the product or service must be mentioned along with the delivery procedure. The seller must clarify details like brand, model, country of origin and delivery time along with pictures, videos etc. so that the consumer can make an informed decision. The date of manufacture, expiry and any possible health hazards related to the product must also be mentioned.
Taking advance payment for products
Products displayed in advance price collection must be at "ready to ship" level within the country. For products that are not in a position to be delivered to the delivery service within 48 hours, more than 10% of the total cost of the product cannot be accepted as advance payments.
Delivery conditions for products
If the full price of the product is paid by the consumer, the delivery must be made within 5 days if the buyer and seller are in the same city and within 10 days if they are in a different city or village. However, delivery time must be shorter for products which fall under the category of daily essential commodity. It is the responsibility of the online seller to ensure proper delivery of the goods. Warranty cards (if any) should be provided with the delivery.
Complaint procedure and remedies or refund
Every digital commerce platform must have a system for receiving consumer complaints and an officer who will deal with various organisations including the Department of Protection of Rights. Such complaints must be recorded and addressed within 72 hours.
A system for rating or reviewing products by the consumers must be kept so that future buyers can form an opinion from such reviews and such feedbacks cannot be made by anyone associated with the vendor and negative reviews cannot be deleted.
If it becomes impossible to supply the goods to the consumer who paid the full price due to an unforeseen circumstance, it has to be informed within 48 hours and full refund must be made within the next 72 hours.
Restrictions imposed on the vendors
- Expired goods cannot be sold or supplied.
- No fake or adulterated goods can be displayed or sold.
- Intoxicating materials, explosives or any other prohibited goods and services can be provided.
- Online betting or gambling is also disallowed.
- For selling medicine or medical supplies, a licence must be obtained from the Director of Drug Administration.
- Multi-level marketing (MLM) or network business cannot be managed on online platforms.
- The sellers must obtain and present their trade licence, Unique Business Authentication Number (UBID) etc. on their selling platform.
- Terms and Conditions and other important details relating to the products should be written in Bengali and other languages if necessary.
Legal Sanctions for violation of the guidelines
Failure to comply with the guidelines will result in consequences like banning the respective marketplaces including cancellation of trade licence, company registration, VAT registration etc. of the seller. Also, the affected consumer can seek legal redress from any concerned courts including the Department of National Consumer Rights Protection.
Many vendors from Bangladesh start online businesses without learning about the legal provisions and try to take advantage of the consumers. Hence, it is mandatory for both buyers and sellers of digital commerce knowledge to have proper knowledge about the laws and the remedies to ensure a safe and just e-commerce platform.
The writer is a student of law at the University of Dhaka.