The number of consumer complaints against e-commerce companies in India have risen by 42% with 78,088 complaints between April 2017–March 2018, as compared to 54,872 complaints in the previous corresponding period, according to the data given in Parliament by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.

The National Consumer Helpline (NCH) run by the Department of Consumer Affairs received these complaints, which includes problems such as non-delivery of products, delivery of defective or wrong product, delayed delivery, refund and replacement issues, not getting the product back after repair or replacement, missing product accessories, and so on. The complaints have gone up significantly in the last five years, representing about 1400.5% jump.

E-commerce consumers can file a complaint with the appropriate Consumer Forum, as well as on the portal, or with the NCH. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MCA) stated in its document that the NCH has partnered with about 400 companies including 66 e-commerce players and these complaints have been transferred to them for redressal. There is no data on how many complaints have been resolved till date.

The MCA’s document read that the buyers will be protected by the Consumer Protection Bill 2018, which will be taken up in the ongoing Monsoon session of the Lok Sabha. This bill will provide an agency — Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) — which will prevent unfair trade practices in e-commerce.

The government is also framing a national e-commerce policy, expected to be out by end of this year. The policy framework is likely to address issues such as physical and digital infrastructure, regulatory regime, taxation policy, data flows, server localisation, intellectual property rights protection, FDI, technology flows, among others. It will be interesting to see if there will be any framework addressing the liability of marketplaces.

Will marketplaces remain safe?

Note that most of the e-commerce players are safeguarded under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act 2008, as these players are intermediaries (marketplaces). There is a need for better understanding of the responsibility, accountability and liability of platforms, marketplaces and aggregators. For instance, B2B marketplace Indiamart was recently relieved by the Supreme Court in a case of cheating, on grounds that Indiamart is a marketplace — an intermediary.  There are various cases of trademark infringement, fake or counterfeit products against other e-commerce players.