Consumer Protection E-commerce Rules – The EduTech Impact

Background

The last few years have seen customers and industry alike benefit from their increased focus on digital platforms in a changing world. Education technology, which is a prominent business vertical of the education sector, stands out for diversifying the means of learning and teaching to an extent that both students and parents have accepted online teaching models as supplement to the formal education system. While the Edutech space was steadily gaining traction, Covid’s sudden impact on physical learning afforded this sector an unparallel opportunity. The approximately USD 800 million investment into the sector in the first six months of 2020 justifies the narrative of emerging as the `next big thing.’
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Consumer Protection E-Commerce Rules - Need for More Clarity Blog

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution has, on July 23, 2020, notified the Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 2020 (“Rules”) under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (“Act”), with an intent to prevent unfair trade practices in e-commerce and protect interests and rights of consumers.

Scope and Applicability 

The Rules are intended to apply to (i) all goods and services bought or sold over digital or electronic networks, (ii) all models of e-commerce, and (iii) all formats of e-commerce retail, with the exception of natural persons transacting in their personal capacity (which is not part of any professional or commercial activity undertaken on a regular or systematic basis). In the absence of any guidance on what ‘regular or systematic basis’ means, a plain reading of this exclusion makes it very narrow.

The Rules govern e-commerce entities (“Platforms”), which own, operate, or manage, a digital or electronic facility or platform for electronic commerce, and sellers of products and services.
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 e-commerce platforms allowed to list products of direct selling entities without their consent

E-commerce websites such as Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal and 1MG (“Online Platforms”) can now breathe a sigh of relief. The Division Bench of the Delhi High Court (‘Division Bench’), in a recent judgment in Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd. v. Amway India Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. & Others[1], allowed e-commerce websites/ platforms/ mobile applications to list products of direct selling entities like Amway, Modicare and Oriflame (“Direct Selling Entities”) without their consent.

In July 2019, a single-judge (“Single Judge”) bench of the Court had, in Amway India Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. v. 1MG Technologies Pvt. Ltd. & Another[2], restrained such online platforms from displaying, advertising, offering for sale, selling, facilitating repackaging of any products of Direct Selling Entities, without their written permission/ consent. The Single Judge had also directed Direct Selling Entities to give notice to the concerned Online Platforms to take down relevant listings if they found their products being displayed on such platforms without their consent. Accordingly, the Online Platforms would then have to take down the said listings within 36 hours.
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India’s Foreign Investment Policy on E-commerce Retail

The Indian government has been striving to effectively regulate India’s e-commerce retail market, since its first attempt in 2000. The regulations have been a by-product of the fear of organised global retail with deep pockets adversely affecting scores of unorganised “mom-and-pop shops” and retailers. The Indian foreign direct investment policy on e-commerce retail has been amended several times, and the e-commerce business houses operating in India have restructured themselves to fall in line with every such change in policy without significantly altering their operations.

In the latest episode of this ongoing saga, the Government of India issued a Press Note No. 2 (2018 Series) on December 28, 2018, to effectively legislate against e-commerce entities that disguise their inventory-based business models[1] as marketplaces[2]. Reportedly[3], Walmart-backed Flipkart and Amazon India are undergoing complex structuring and restructuring to align themselves with the amended policy. This to and fro between the Government and e-commerce players has not only been unproductive for the country’s economy, but is also against this Government’s stated objective of certainty and Ease of Doing Business in India. While the effective implementation of the regulations governing e-commerce retail continues to be a significant issue, there are certain other fundamental concerns relating to the approach of the Indian government towards e-commerce retail, which require immediate consideration.    
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