In the bid to protect online consumers from unfair business transactions, Consumer International, the membership organisation for consumer groups around the world, chose the theme, “Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer”, to mark the World Consumer Rights Day 2018.
The event was commemorated by over 200 member organisations in more than 100 countries to empower and champion the rights of consumers everywhere.
While commemorating the annual event in Nigeria on Thursday, the apex consumer protection agency in Nigeria, Consumer Protection Council, (CPC), warned online marketing companies against allowing fraud in their operations or risk the necessary sanctions.
Babatunde Irukera, Director General of the Council, who gave the warning after a meeting with online marketing firms, said CPC would not fold its hands and allow Nigerians to be defrauded.
He explained that the warning became necessary to safeguard Nigerians given the fact that global ecommerce growth is fast rising as online shopping has reached $2.29 trillion in 2017, and Nigeria unarguably contributed to the figure.
While expressing concern that about 70 per cent of Nigerian consumers are worried about the safety of their online transactions, the CPC boss, said the meeting would go a long way to streamline operational principles for enhanced consumer confidence.
He vowed that the Council will not treat online marketing firms that are bent on exploiting Nigerians with kid gloves, warning that sanctions will be tough to make ensure that inappropriate behaviour by affected firms are penalised.
He, however, explained that the Council and the online marketing companies have mutually agreed on the need for a dedicated customer service apparatus to ensure engagement and a complaint resolution process, which is not burdensome to the customer.
“Online market platforms recognise the importance of full, frank and complete disclosures of any terms, conditions, exceptions or restrictions on products marketed on their platforms.
Among the mutual understanding reached with online marketers is that online marketers should recognise the need to promote consumer confidence and eliminate distrust.
He added that advertisement of products should be truthful, transparent and factual, including current and future availability, specifications, merchantable conditions, quality and relevant warranty information.
The agreement specifies that online market platforms should consider timely delivery of items purchased from them, and added that timely delivery is a material and vital term of the contract and agreement between platforms and their customers.
“As such, timely delivery including reasonable and fair return windows, prompt and efficient refunds and respect for cancellations in accordance with prevailing policy, are a matter of contractual obligations.
Another aspect of online transaction which the agreement calls the marketers to adhere to is the one that states that online marketers should recognise and respect the privacy of consumers and protect such privacy by securing and only disclosing consumer data and personal information by operation of law or in accordance with consumer preferences.
Given the level of determination which CPC, under the leadership of Irukera, has so far exhibited at various public forum, and considering the fact that the techniques needed to protect online consumers are quite different from the ones needed to protect off-line consumers, since the move was made in the last few days, some respondents spoken to by DAILY INDEPENDENT, have expressed the views that those consumers that purchase their goods from e-commerce or digital marketplaces need to be strongly protected so that they are not exploited by spurious online marketers, and frauds who have online presence.
Some of the consumers who had the media parleys with DAILY INDEPENDENT, urged CPC to put more effort into its readiness to protect online shoppers, while they were unanimous in their views by acknowledging the fact that protecting online consumers is an arduous task ahead of the consumer protection agency.
According to Mr. Michael Nmoka, a chartered marketer affiliated to the Nigerian Institute of Marketing, (NIM), and a marketing consultant, “The issue of online consumer protection is a global phenomenon of which Nigeria’s involvement cannot be an exception.”
He said that “CPC has not been up and doing”, noting that the agency need to put in more efforts in the bid to fulfil its mandates.
He said the protection of consumers at below-the-line segment of its purview cannot be said to have been adequately protected not to talk of those online.
Nmoka said as a former Eastern Regional Manager that he drew the attention of the protection agency, but regrettably the responses of CPC were unsatisfactory.
He expressed satisfaction with the move, but urged the agency to be responsive to complaints and ensure that satisfactory redress measures and resolutions are applied in handling complaints brought before council.
Prof. Anthony Kila, the Director of Studies, Centre for International and Advanced Professional Studies (CIAPS) said CPC is not prepared for the situation, as protecting online consumer required more of the application of digital efforts, which CPC lacks.
He said CPC is still using analogue to address issues, and urge the council to catch up fast with other countries that are succeeding in the protection of consumers.
Kila advised that for CPC to get it right and succeed in the delivery of its mandates on protecting consumers in the cyberspace that efforts should be made in making its presence known to the Nigerian consumers.
He noted that most consumers do not know that CPC, as a protection body, exists.
He added that even those that know do not even know how to channel their complaints to the council.
Mr. Kelechi Ezeigbo, said: “Partnering with online marketers is not enough for CPC to succeed as a consumer protection council. The council need to be equipped with IT experts who would be charged with the responsibility of monitoring activities on the websites of online marketers. Again, CPC should note that digital marketplaces have no boundary. One can be in Nigeria, and place order for products that are sold in the USA or UK.”
Consumer International has observed that across the globe that its members have gone far, even before the unveiling of the theme for 2018 World Consumer Rights Day, “Making Digital Market Places Fairer” in the protection of consumers in their countries.
Examples of countries mentioned cut across Hong Kong where its consumer council is turning the spotlight on online security and data protection in its CHOICE magazine with articles on issues like the use of personal data by taxi apps and online shopping complaints.
Also cited was the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, (CCZ), which is involved in the campaign for effective redress and complaints handling online, data protection legislation, and access to affordable internet for all.
Less than half the population of Zimbabwe has access to the internet, and 1GB of mobile data costs over $30, compared to around $5 in South Africa. They are holding an event to bring together government, regulators and service providers to explore how these issues can be tackled.
Added to the foregoing is the Consumers Union of Finland, which has launched a bespoke Twitter account to keep consumers, informed about online scams and fraud.
In the same vein, Consumer International noted that at the University of São Paulo, IDEC, an apex consumer body, is organising an event on the Data Protection Draft Bill, currently under discussion in Brazil.
Activists and students are gathering to discuss what a personal data bill built for the public could mean, the state of the draft bills and the impact on consumers.
Also mentioned was the shining example of the Yemen Association for Consumer Protection, (YACP), as it has been involved in an aggressive campaign for the benefits of online consumers on how to shop online.
Mr. Edwin Okwuekwu advised that it is expedient that “Consumer Protection Council learn from other succeeding councils across the world, adding that “CPC must be prepared in its latest mandate to ensure that digital marketplaces are safe and fairer.”