Online shops are in high demand during the pandemic but they are failing to provide clients and merchants with satisfactory service
Rubayat Alam Kusum, a housewife in Dhaka, ordered two kitchen scales from Daraz and paid in cash when the parcel was delivered.
However, when she opened the parcel, she saw that one of the scales was missing.
She immediately informed Daraz who told her that she would have to fill out a return form first and then send the incomplete parcel at a Daraz drop off point nearest to her.
Kusum did not understand why a delivery person could not come and take the parcel instead of her having to go out.
Daraz informed her that it was their return and refund policy.
"If I have to go outside then what was the point in ordering online?" said a frustrated Kusum.
Rohini Alamgir ordered a few products from BanglaShoppers, a cosmetics shop.
She paid online and was charged extra to get the delivery within three days.
Three days went by, yet Rohini did not receive any call or email, let alone the products.
She made numerous calls to all three branches of BanglaShoppers and eventually, the Uttara branch responded. But they could not provide her with any solution.
Rohini said, "Not only was it time consuming and upsetting but they were also unhelpful. If this is their quality of service, then why are they offering it?"
These days, people are ordering more things online in order to avoid the risk of infection. Customers are even willing to pay extra delivery charges to avoid going outside.
According to e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB), during the pandemic, online sales of essential commodities has increased by approximately 70 percent, although sales of luxury or cross border products has decreased.
However, online shopping during this time has not been a pleasant experience for many customers.
With the phenomenal rise in the volume of orders, more and more companies – both traditional e-commerce outlets as well those delivering products for the first time since the shutdown – are bungling up orders. Customers complained of regular delays in deliveries, mismatch between the product order and the product delivered, and poor customer care service where the service provider is incapable of providing satisfactory solutions and is sometimes, downright rude to the customer.
Rezaul Islam had ordered a mobile phone from the online shop Evaly.
Two months had passed before he was notified that the product was handed over to a courier service.
Suddenly, an e-mail from RedX, the courier company, notified him that they were returning the product to Evaly as it was damaged.
But after that, neither Evaly nor RedX contacted him again.
Every time he reached out to Evaly, they said, "Your product will be delivered soon."
It is not just customers; merchants too are dealing with poor customer care services, damaged or lost products and missed delivery dates as they outsource deliveries to companies that specialise in delivering products.
Samiya (pseudonym) runs a clothing business. Before Eid-ul-Azha, she wanted to send three salwar kameez sets to a client in Chittagong.
The delivery company assured her that out of Dhaka services were fully available.
Not only did the products failed to reach the delivery location on time, one of them actually got lost.
Although Samiya received a refund for the lost product, the incident really upset her client.
Impressed with RedX delivery app's order tracking option, a merchant, Kallol (pseudonym) placed an order there.
He was assured that the product would be delivered within one or two days. But he noticed that his order was not updated on the app.
When he contacted their customer service, they said, "We are updating soon."
For the next five days, Kallol contacted them but no updates were provided.
Finally, he cancelled the order and sent another parcel to his customer via a different courier service.
But instead of processing his cancellation, he noticed that his parcel was being processed for delivery and was sent to the delivery hubs.
He immediately notified the customer service but no steps were taken.
His client ended up receiving two parcels.
Interestingly, RedX could not charge Kallol for the delivery cost as he had cancelled the order.
What are the responsible companies saying?
The Business Standard reached out to most of the companies that were named by customers for failing to provide delivery service.
BanglaShoppers claimed their customer service is available 24/7 but during the Eid rush, a few orders may have slipped and they were "sorry for such inconveniences".
According to Daraz, they have a separate team to handle returned products and their delivery persons cannot pick them up. They also added they were not thinking about changing their return and refund policy any time soon.
After contacting Evaly over phone, an e-mail about the allegations was sent to them but they did not respond to it.
Delivery company RedX apologised to all merchant partners who did not receive the expected services.
Iftekher Bin Naser Chowdhury, chief of staff at ShopUp (they also look after RedX), said, "We realised that our merchants' businesses would suffer if we do not help them to deliver the extra volume of sales that they are generating. Either we help as many merchant partners as possible with the risk of mishaps or do not help them at all. We have chosen the former as it is more important."
The reasons behind these mishaps
Poor customer service – some companies do not even have customer care - means customers stay clueless about the product and its delivery.
At times, some online shops are selling out of stock products having failed to update their site regularly. Only much later are customers informed that the product is not available even though they have processed the payment.
A Facebook group named "Evaly Complain and Delivery Issues" is flooded with complaints from customers. They shared that Evaly does not regularly update its website which is why they fail to see order cancellations.
Mehedi Hasan, operations manager of Jhotpot, a merchant company which works with RedX, said many courier companies are messing up order because of an emphasis on quantity over quality.
How can the law help the customers?
If customers are not content with the service, they can directly complain against the sellers either at e-CAB or Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP).
Consumers also need to read the disclaimer clauses thoroughly before ordering any products.
Mohammad Sahab Uddin, vice-president of e-CAB, said, "Sellers should not blame intermediaries or delivery companies. They should depend on reliable agents – who will deliver the product smoothly. The seller is responsible for every action until the customer receives the product."
E-CAB can only warn the companies which are registered under them. But the number of registered organisations is only 1,200.
DNCRP Additional Director Md Masum Arefin admitted that the number of complaints were increasing with the rise in online sales, but could not provide an exact number as the organisation does not segregate complaints by online and physical stories.
He also asked consumers to report complaints at their hotline number 16121 or email to email@example.com.
Meanwhile, the directorate also takes consumer complaints through 999.
DNCRP looks after the cases and fines the companies. If sellers are found guilty, customers can receive 25 percent of the penalty charge.
The Cyber Security and Crime Division of the police also encouraged consumers to report such harassments, as consumers are protected against online fraud or deception by law.
"Customers' satisfaction is the real price of the product. If the product loses its value or customer is dissatisfied with the service, sellers are bound to refund the money," said Dhruba Joetirmoya Gope, senior assistant commissioner of police.
Sajid Amit, associate professor at the Centre for Enterprise and Society (CES), ULAB, said, "I think, traditionally, the quality of customer service by our e-commerce platforms has been disappointing. Whether it is due to insufficient quality control of merchants who sell through these platforms, inadequate supervision of third-party delivery agents, there are too many holes. In such cases, companies' license should be cancelled immediately. Covid-19 has brought forth a tremendous opportunity for e-commerce platforms, but I am not necessarily hearing that these quality issues have been overcome."
In many countries, online shopping is hassle-free even during this pandemic. Their standard operating procedure makes it possible to deliver on time and keep customers updated.
In that sense, our sellers and intermediaries could launch operational tracking apps to notify customers and avoid miscommunication, said relevant experts.