There are names, in fact a number of them, that appear in the media these days as alleged fraudsters involved in cheating consumers while promising to deliver goods online. Thanks to the pandemic-induced circumstances that have sparked a significant expansion of e-commerce in the country, the platforms using the business model are well poised to receive orders for almost all kinds of daily necessaries. While a number of them have earned the reputation of maintaining goodwill in their transactions, quite a few of them have also found it an opportunity to cash in on consumers’ trust.
Those allegedly involved in the fraudulent ways are reportedly big e-platforms that promise to procure high-value goods, including electrical and electronic appliances from abroad on partial or full advance payments. Most of the consumers believed to have been cheated are those who made advance payments, and although the e-platforms are still keeping them waiting for long with promises of delivery, chances appear to be next to nothing as prospects are waning. There are intriguing reports in the media saying that some of these e-platforms who procure goods from abroad or promise to do so are burdened with far more bank loans than their actual assets in monetary terms. As regards the other e-platforms that deliver goods ranging across a wide variety of consumer items under ‘cash on delivery’, there is hardly any complaint. So, the fraud is orchestrated by supposedly big e-platforms who allure the consumers to supply desired goods at cheaper prices from abroad.
At a webinar organised by the FE last week titled ‘Regulating the e-commerce industry: Prerequisite for ensuring sustainability’, participants expressed their concern and sought government intervention in what they termed the Ponzi scheme run in the guise of e-commerce initiatives. In the virtual meeting, industry stakeholders and experts said that holding Tk 40 to 50 billion by only a few e-commerce platforms was not only a crisis for the business but also a crisis for financial regulation. No business entity except banks can hold clients’ money for an uncertain period of time, but some e-commerce platforms were doing so. Speaking on the occasion, FE editor drew attention of the participants to the fact that 11.48 per cent clients were deceived last year by various e-commerce and f-commerce platforms— the percentage was 7.44 per cent in 2019.
As e-commerce is at a nascent stage in Bangladesh, the sector requires special protection and it is in the interest of developing an alternative and smooth business model that the government has to formulate policies to protect both the consumers and local e-commerce platforms. However, too many regulations would hamper the growth of the budding sector, according to experts. The market size of e-commerce has expanded from an estimated Tk 5.6 billion in 2016 to Tk 166.16 billion in August 2020, which is highly commendable. In order to keep this momentum as well as ensure smooth business-to-consumer transactions, it is highly imperative that the government looked into the loopholes and plugged those for healthy growth of the sector.