Council addresses online trade complaints

The Consumer Council of Fiji has received a total of 149 complaints relating to online businesses.

According to CEO Seema Shandil, some of the issues the council discovered online businesses engaging in included misleading advertisements, accepting payment for products which were out of stock and forcing consumers to choose alternative products, failing to provide redress to consumers and non-disclosure of fees and charges.

It also included accepting payments under the pretence of supplying goods (fraudulent traders/individuals) and supplying goods which were not advertised.

“While the council had liaised with businesses and most of the issues have since been rectified (85 per cent of complaints against online businesses in 2021 were successfully resolved), unresolved cases whereby businesses and individuals operating online were not forthcoming have been flagged to relevant enforcement agencies,” she said.

Ms Shandil said the COVID-19 pandemic had undoubtedly shifted and transformed the consumer landscape over the past year.

“In fact, at the height of the pandemic, ten years of e-commerce growth happened in just few weeks.”

Ms Shandil said the council commended local businesses for adapting to this new norm and shifting their operations online as it presented a lot of opportunities for consumers.

“Due to its widespread use, the Consumer Council of Fiji has and will continue to monitor online shopping platforms to ensure that any unscrupulous practices can be identified and weeded out and the rights of Fijian consumers are protected.

“The council is reminding businesses to exercise good business practices and not to resort to shoddy market practices especially in such times of crisis.

“Businesses must only advertise and accept payment for products which they have in stock and not force consumers to choose another product which they do not need.”

Ms Shandil said additionally, businesses had an obligation to deliver products and services to consumers for which they had received payment and failure to do so was not only unethical, but illegal as well.

“The council also understands that there may be anticipated delays at times due to influx of orders, however, businesses have the responsibility to disclose this to the consumers before receiving any payments.

“Moreover, the council has noted an increase in the number of individuals trading on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, unfortunately, the number of complaints against such individuals has also increased.

“For this reason, we are urging consumers to be extremely cautious whilst making payments to individuals trading on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.”

She added the council had consumers contacting them who were left out-of-pocket after making payments to certain individuals purporting to sell items on Instagram but failing to supply goods.