With most people quarantined at home, a new way of doing business has gained popularity. People are now increasingly selling goods and services online. Devices, apps and services for electronic commerce are in high demand.
The situation is likely to persist as people continue to work from home and even formal education shifts to “blended” learning that employs online education. As in traditional forms of doing business, however, there can be lousy service or, worse, outright scams in e-commerce. And at this point, consumer protection in e-commerce is still weak.
Congress, which has adjourned session, is just starting to work with the Department of Trade and Industry on regulating e-commerce. The DTI wants to set up an eCommerce Bureau to specifically deal with consumer concerns involving online transactions.
The DTI has been proposing e-commerce legislation since as far back as 2000. Perhaps because internet use in this country at the time was still not as widespread, however, it would take two decades – and a killer pandemic – to highlight the usefulness of e-commerce.
The biggest problem in digital trading has always been the difficulty of monitoring the quality and delivery of goods or services. There are also no clear-cut avenues for seeking redress in case a consumer doesn’t get the item paid for with the expected specifications. The Department of Finance has its own problem with e-commerce, which it is seeking to correct through tax reforms.
Last Friday, President Duterte himself ranted about online scammers – in this case a supplier of face masks for the coronavirus. He gave the public detailed advice on how to deal with such swindlers: tie them up, put them in a vehicle, and then toss them into the Pasig River from a bridge. If done at 3 a.m., he quipped, no one would notice.
Consumers need better measures than that for protection when conducting online transactions. Congress is now adjourned, and it would take time before the second session that opens in July can pass the e-commerce bill. In the meantime, perhaps an executive order from Malacañang or circulars from relevant agencies can be issued to improve consumer protection for e-commerce. Whether online or in traditional businesses, consumers must get what they pay for, with ease.