Council Hosts One of Fiji’s Biggest Talk on E-commerce

27/10/2021 13:27

With a staggering number of Fijian businesses adopting ‘Omni-channel’ retail model and a sudden shift in consumer behavior towards online shopping platforms, the Consumer Council of Fiji earlier today conducted a national webinar on E-commerce to discuss emerging consumer issues in e-commerce.

 The webinar was based on the theme “Building trust in E-commerce” and brought together Government representatives, Fiji’s competition regulator, retailers’ representatives, businesses and consumers to discuss pertinent issues which consumers face when transacting online and how all stakeholders can work together to create an enabling environment for e-commerce.

 While officiating at the webinar, the Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport Hon Faiyaz Koya highlighted that e-commerce offers consumer’s access to a wider range of products and services and brings more convenience. However, stressed that many consumers are skeptical about e-commerce due to perceived high risks and uncertainty.

 “Whilst businesses have embraced e-commerce, consumers remain skeptical about the perceived high risks and uncertainty with the online shopping concept – they remain settled towards the traditional shopping environment. Tangible factors in a traditional shopping environment, such as, the appearance of a store and direct contact with a sales person provides a sense of comfort and trust,” said Hon Koya

 Hon Koya also highlighted that there are huge potential benefits of E-commerce to consumer welfare, but at the time lack of product information, unfair business practices, inadequate online dispute resolution and breaches of consumer privacy is commonly found.

 “To protect consumers and ensure a level playing field, there is a need for review of consumer policies. There should be special features of E-commerce in the respective consumer law. Both consumers and businesses will be made aware of their rights and obligations in the digital marketplace. There also needs to be a comprehensive audit of policies, incentives and law related to e-commerce. This will lead to better alignment. I am tasking the Ministry to conduct this task in conjunction with stakeholders like Consumer Council of Fiji,” said Hon Koya

 Consumer Council of Fiji Chief Executive Officer Ms Seema Shandil also highlighted that despite the benefits of e-commerce, the ease and speed with which consumers and businesses can engage in online transactions – at anytime, anywhere, and in particular across borders – may create situations that are unfamiliar to them and put their interests at risk.

 “As Fiji’s leading consumer advocacy organisation and competent consumer watchdog, the Council supports this transformation however, at the same time, we are stressing that the rights of consumers should also be respected, honoured and engrained on e-commerce platforms. So today we have come together to identify issues related to e-commerce and find solutions to address those issues,” stated Ms Shandil.

 The Consumer Council has also revealed that at times consumers are subjected to unfair trading practices on e-commerce platforms which is evident by the number of complaints lodged relating to e-commerce.  The Council recorded 130 complaints over the last 12 months.

 “These issues are persisting because at times certain unscrupulous traders are only profit orientated and are eager to make a quick buck but most often, these issues are recurring because online traders – especially small and medium enterprises are unaware of their roles and responsibilities and the consumer protection laws which they need to abide by – and that’s what we want to address,” added Ms Shandil.

The Consumer Council also revealed in the webinar that earlier this year, a submission was made to the Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport for the development of regulations which would govern E-commerce in Fiji.

Ms Shandil said that this would give clear demarcation of the rules which needs to be followed and the roles and responsibilities of all actors involved in e-commerce. This will aid in the steady development of e-commerce in Fiji – which would be a win for both consumers and businesses.

The Council is assuring consumers of continued work in creating a safe and favourable e-commerce environment in Fiji.