The Department of Consumer Affairs issued draft guidelines on E-commerce on August 02, 2019. The guidelines have been floated by the Department in the wake of frequent use of E-commerce websites in our day-to-day lives and subsequent vulnerability of consumer interests.

The Department has also invited views and suggestions from the stakeholders on various aspects of the guidelines. The suggestions and comments can be submitted within 45 days, latest by 16th September, 2019 and sent to dscpu-ca@nic.in .

The draft guidelines also named as E-Commerce Guidelines for Consumer Protection 2019 have been drafted in the interests of consumers and as guiding principles for e commerce business for preventing fraud, unfair trade practices and protecting the legitimate rights and interests of consumers.

Key Highlights of the Guidelines

Conditions for carrying out E-commerce Business-The Draft Guidelines enumerates conditions which have to be duly complied with by the e-commerce entities within 90 days from the date of publication of the guidelines. The conditions inter alia include the following:

E-commerce entity has to submit a self-declaration to the Department stating that it is in compliance with these Guidelines;

The promoter of the e-commerce website should not have been convicted of any criminal offence punishable with imprisonment in last 5 years;

Payments for sale should be in conformity with the guidelines of the Reserve Bank of India;

Details about the sellers including legal identity of their business, website, e-mail address and contact details shall be displayed in the web site;

E- commerce Entity not to engage in unfair trade practices- In order to keep consumer interests intact, the Draft guidelines delineates that E-commerce entity shall not influence the price of the goods or services and maintain a level playing field;

That e-commerce websites shall not misrepresent themselves and post reviews as consumers;

E-Commerce Entity shall display terms of contract between e-Commerce entity and the seller relating to return, refund, exchange, warranty / guarantee, delivery / shipment, mode of payments, grievance redressal mechanism etc.;

The entity shall ensure that personally identifiable information of customers is protected, and that such data collection and storage and use comply with provisions of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008.

If the ecommerce entity is informed by the consumer or comes to know about any counterfeit product being sold on its platform, then it shall take down the said listing and notify the consumers of the same;

The guidelines also state that in case e-commerce entities do not take precautionary measures for ensuring sale of authentic goods that they may be held guilty of contributory or secondary liability.

Liabilities of Sellers– The Draft guidelines to ensure the veracity of sellers on e-commerce platforms also instils liabilities on the sellers which inter alia include as under:

Prior written contract with the respective e-Commerce entity in order to undertake or solicit such sale or offer;

To provide all information required by law or by any other mandatory regime for disclosing contractual information;

To display single-figure total and break up price for the goods or service

To provide mandatory safety and health care warnings and shelf life that a consumer would get at any physical point of sale;

Consumer grievance redress procedure– The Draft guidelines mandates that every e-Commerce entity shall device a grievance redressal mechanism and publish on its website the name of the Grievance Officer alongwith contact details;

The Grievance Officer shall redress the complaints within one month from the date of receipt of complaint;

Facilities shall be extended to consumers to register their complaints over phone, email or website and shall provide complaint number for tracking the complaint;

In the recent past, India has witnessed phenomenal growth of E-commerce entities and humongous proliferation in consumers relying on E-commerce websites for purchase and sale of variety of goods/ services ranging from Diamonds to cow dung cakes. This unprecedented surge in e-commerce activities in urban as well as rural India necessitates the existence of guidelines to regulate the E-commerce market. We hope that the guidelines will be enforced and implemented in it’s true letter and spirit.

The draft guidelines can be accessed here.