Today’s customers are shopping online more and have embraced electronic transactions. While this can be great for both businesses and consumers, e-commerce presents various challenges in terms of safely and satisfactorily completing purchases online.
In addition to the issues of B2C data security and privacy, the consumer’s inability to see what is being ordered has led to consumer protection concerns in e-commerce. What happens when the goods or services do not arrive, or arrive damaged, or the items are not the quality promised in marketing materials, or there is a discrepancy with payments?
Consumer protection policies created in the 1960s-70s must be revisited to account for e-commerce. The challenges limiting a nation’s ability to protect consumers are only addressed through cooperation, communication and through multi-and bi-lateral agreements between different nations. Governments and leading private sectors need to work together to update existing consumer protection laws. With this development, new regulations aimed at achieving transparent and fair protection for consumers during advertising, marketing, contract terms and payment will emerge.
In order to diligently comprehend all terms and disclosure of online contracts, consumers should be proactive about e-commerce. They must conduct their own consultations from reliable experts, research through consumer protection agencies in order to be certain of the e- business. One can also opt to ask questions such as: What are the payment options? What methods does this company take to secure customer information? Does this company sell or market customer information to other businesses? What are the terms of the contract? Is there an established return policy? Is there information on the website about the company’s dispute resolution policy? Consumers are protected under the general guidelines for consumer protection in the context of electronic commerce. These guidelines are designed to offer consumers the same protections they enjoy when they purchase products from a local store or distributor.
Honesty standards should be reflected in the traditional methods of marketing and advertising Clear and obvious disclosure should be provided between the trading parties and the consumer should have a clear and precise description of the products they are purchasing with a flexibility to change or modify their choice. Consumers should be clearly informed of a fair dispute resolution process and have access to user-friendly and secure payment instruments, and be fully informed of the level of security they are afforded.
Education and awareness are key to support a smooth transaction in e-commerce. Governments, businesses and consumer representatives should collaborate to educate consumers about e-commerce, to raise awareness of the protections consumers are afforded in their online activities to protect consumers’ sensitive information. Thus fighting fraudulent misrepresentation boosting consumer confidence in the long ran and if consumers are not confident, they will not buy.
Most of the existing consumer protection laws were created before globalization boom of advent of the internet making them limited in scope. The other main challenge facing e-commerce is fraud dispersal of perpetrators around the globe which makes it difficult to identify and locate them.
To limit fraudulent practices in e-commerce, cooperation between government, private industries and consumer protection agencies should be at its highest and establish a domestic system for combating cross border fraudulent and deceptive commercial practices against consumers, enhance information and notification sharing
The importance of reading the fine print of a contract cannot be overstated in an attempt to crack down on abusive terms in e-commerce. More and more courts are holding consumers responsible for the obligations contained in online contracts when clicking “I agree”. At the same time, national courts are setting precedents with some contractual terms considered abusive or illegal to consumers, such as service disclaimers and arbitrary price changes.
The writer is pursuing a Masters Degree in International Trade Law and Policy at the University of Lundi, Sweden coordinated by TRAPCA/EASMI
@ RWAKISETA Herbert