By Sonam Deki
According to the Regional Trade Office, Department of Trade, Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA), there are 111 E-commerce businesses registered with the department as of September 2, 2022.
But this is not the only one; there are numerous unidentified online businesses that defraud customers and vendors alike.
Online commerce (also known as electronic trade) is the exchange of goods and services, or the sharing of resources or information, over an electronic network, mostly the internet.
E-commerce, sometimes referred to as online business, requires a valid Trade license to operate which gives them legitimacy as a business entity. Registration with competent authority, the operation of business is within the conformity of the regulator thereby, accountable and responsible of business operation and in turn, protecting the entity as well as the customers. Today, however, there are more online businesses than ever before, albeit most of them are not registered business entity.
For these reasons, on January 16, 2012, the Consumer Protection Act of 2012 was ratified by the Parliament of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
The Regional Director, Regional Trade Office, in Thimphu Mr. Sangay Phuntsho remarked “The present trade laws and regulations serve as the general framework for each commercial entity’s regulation. The 2019 e-commerce guidelines are used to administrate the e-commerce establishment in addition to the current trade laws and regulations. Department of Trade and Office of Consumer Protection regularly carry out the regulatory aspects on the ground “.
Many people prefer internet shopping instead ofpersonally visiting the shop because it is very convenient, saving time and saves extra expenditure incurred to get to the shop location. When people come across any intriguing items, they immediately place an order without verifying and confirming if the online store is legitimate.
The Regional Director also stated, “If unregistered internet businesses are discovered, the department will levy fines and penalties in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations.”
One of the shoppers, Sangay Yangzom, stated “I placed an order for some gorgeous heels after seeing them while shopping online, but the vendor insisted on full payment, so I was obliged to follow the instructions given by the person whom I was chatting to place the order. However, as soon as I paid the amount, that account blacklisted me, saying that the internet store was phony. No reply to my massage, call rejected and account offline was what I got, I got duped”.
According to Consumer Protection Rules and Regulations 2015 (Revision) Regulations 2022, (14) Any person who commits an offence of misleading advertising under section 16 and 17 of the Consumer Protection Act 2012 shall be liable for a fine of 50% of the value of goods or services through misleading advertisement or equivalent to a national minimum wage rate of eight months; if the value cannot be determined.
Even vendors are victimized by fraud. Typically, the customer pays 50% while placing the order and 50% once the items are delivered. The majority of the times, consumers do pay 50% pre to order, but when the remaining 50% is due after delivery, the customers block the vendor.
Proprietor of an unnamed online store claimed “We occasionally come across fraudulent. Customers pay 50% while placing an order while other 50% is supposed to be paid on delivery but often when we deliver costumers give reasonable excuses and postpone the payments. They reject the call, turn blind to our massages and some even destroy the number. Which is really inconvenient for us so we now follow pay and deliver system“.
The proprietor of Fashion Square, Jaigaon who went full-fledged online business during the covid-19 situation said “We didn’t experience any fraud or scams because of the trust we had established with our customers and the quality we deliver, and we didn’t let any customers down as a result of doing business online. The only issues we had were with the delay in courier delivery to our customers and no clear directive from the relevant agencies about the taxes on small purchases entering Bhutan“.
Unregulated businesses as E-commerce on a wider unlimited platform are a heaven for defrauders to make quick money from the innocent netizins making it difficult for the regulators to regulate with fake accounts on social media. However, it’s not sole responsibility of the authority but also business entity and individuals who need to register with the authority for their businesses and verify the authenticity of buyers as well as the suppliers alike.