eCommerce and Consumer Protection

Recently, my sons placed order for shoes on a particular eCommerce site in Nigeria. The merchant got in touch with them and asked that they pay some amount of money as deposit, which they did; and the merchant promised to have the shoes delivered in  two days’ time. Two days became weeks, they kept calling and the response will be tomorrow and the tomorrow was never ending. Well, finally I intervened  and the shoes were delivered; as at that time of delivery one of  my sons had travelled to Abuja and I asked the young man who delievered the shoes what will happen if the shoes didn’t fit as he won’t be back for about two weeks. He said he will change it for him.

Two weeks later my son returned and the shoes were too small. I again called the merchant who promised they will exchange the shoes for him and we fixed a date. When the day came, the shoes didn’t come and the merchant stopped picking our calls. Till date the shoes are still with us and my son has returned back to his school outside Nigeria. Unfortunately, there was no way to locate the merchant and no place to seek redress.

This is just an example of what some Nigerian consumers have experienced with eCommerce in the country.

What is eCommerce? At its core, e-commerce refers to the purchase and sale of goods and/or services via electronic channels such as the internet. Like any digital technology or consumer-based purchasing market, e-commerce has evolved over the years. E-commerce was first introduced in the 1960s via an electronic data interchange (EDI) on value-added networks (VANs). The medium grew with the increased availability of internet access and the advent of popular online sellers in the 1990s and early 2000s. Nigeria has joined the bandwagon and is making good progress with the likes of Jumia, Konga, Jiji to mention but a few.

The benefits of e-commerce are many. Suffice it to say that with e-commerce people can now carry out businesses without the barriers of time or distance. Purchases can be made 24 /7, making it available to every place in the world, at any time.

Also, consumers can do their shopping online in the comfort of their homes and offices. e-Consumers can browse through many products within minutes, compare prices quickly and place orders for almost everything he wants.

However, in spite of the advantages highlighted above, there are limitations on what one can buy online. There is the issue of inability to identify, view or touch the items to be purchased as well as the vagueness of information about the products offered. There is also no guarantee of transaction security and privacy. Anyone, good or bad, can easily start a business on the Internet. Many fake site operators defraud unsuspecting customers. These underscore the need for an adequate legal protection for e-commerce consumers. Otherwise, consumers will be cheated and subjected to all sorts of unfair trade practices as obtainable in the ordinary commercial transactions.

 

Currently worth around $13billion (about N4.01trillion), experts in the Nigerian financial service sector have estimated that Nigeria’s e-commerce market value could rise to $50billion (N15.45trillion) over the next decade.

 

A recent report by London based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), identified industry giants, such as Jumia, Konga and Jiji, as leading the African charge to boost the continent’s growth of online, technology based retail business.

 

Recently, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) predicted that the e-commerce sector is expected to contribute about 10 per cent, of a projected N10trillion, to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2018.

The above are indications that e-Commerce can boost the economy of any country, as long as that country wishes to take the advantages brought by the breakthrough in the modern day information technology.

However, this cannot be achieved without putting in place the relevant legal framework that will protect online consumers or e-consumers, as access to effective justice is essential for the enforcement of the consumer rights and obligations.

Unfortunately, general studies conducted on e-commerce in Nigeria have supported the conclusion that Nigerian legal system lags behind in ICT based legislation. And that the existing statutory laws are quite inadequate to address the pressing legal issues affecting e-Commerce and e-Consumers in the country.

The enactment of the Cybercrimes Act 2015 and the Evidence Act 201187 are however, giant strides toward establishing an adequate legal framework in Nigeria for e-commerce and consumer protection by extension.

 

In 2015 the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) unveiled plans to regulate eCommerce in Nigeria. Among the issues highlighted for regulation are non-disclosure of full information on products and services, deceptive advertisement, improper description of products, delivery of defective products, poor informal dispute settlement procedures, double payments and poor or non-existent customer service. However, there is nothing to show that this regulation has taken effect. Perhaps, the CPC needs to borrow a leaf from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and create awareness on the avenues for seeking redress.

There is also the need for the Nigerian government to put in place appropriate legal framework for the protection of e-consumers; a framework that will enable consumers’ complaints to be heard and determined in good time without much expenses and technicalities. Complainants need not go to the regular courts as courts in Nigeria are congested, and most of the judges manning the courts are not ICT law experts.

Doing this will not only benefit the e-consumer but will also attract investors at home and abroad. Integrity and trust are two key elements of growth in eCommerce. Government must ensure that these are in place and adequate provision is put  in place to protect the consumer.

 

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