Are the products that you buy from an e-commerce site genuine?

Owing to deep discounts, attractive offers, free shipping, easy return policy etc. online shopping has become a way of life for many consumers, so much so, that they are ditching the need for touch and feel of the product before buying it. One of the major concerns, according to me, when buying online, is how do you really know whether the product that you’ve ordered is genuine? What if that watch that you plan to gift your mother on her birthday turns out to be a fake!

This is because most online shipping portals these days are just platforms that aggregate retailers, and hence, there is little control over what the retailers actually deliver to you. Regulations in India don’t allow e-tailers to buy the goods from the manufacturers and sell them on their site. Therefore, the e-tailers have to rely on various distributors for shipping the products sold on their site. This is precisely why the e-commerce companies have little or no control over the quality, genuineness or the warranty of the products that they themselves are selling.

A simple look at the numbers will reveal how online shoppers in India are being fooled by e-tailers. According to a study by ASSOCHAM, the online luxury market for counterfeiters is worth Rs. 17,000 crore and growing at a CAGR of more than 20%. Of this, online shopping portals account for more than 25% of fake luxury goods market in India.

Also, the fake goods market has clearly made its way to both domestic as well as international shopping portals. While a year ago, Gucci had accused Alibaba of selling fake products, Snapdeal was accused of retailing counterfeit goods under the JBL brand last year by its exclusive distributor Harman International Industries (HBL). Pan-India saree distributor Shree Meena Creations too had filed a lawsuit against Flipkart, Amazon and eBay, along with about two dozen sellers on these marketplaces for allegedly selling replicas of its copyrighted sarees.

I am not saying that the sale of fake products has started only with the advent of online portals but the problem has aggravated even more now because online portals have made it very easy for rogue sellers to list their dubious products on e-commerce sites and sell them. As a matter of fact, since the arrival of e-commerce in India, there has been a surge in the sale of stolen art, cosmetics, clothes and other merchandise that is being sold online without the consent of the manufacturers.

Another big concern is the warranty of the products sold online not being honored by many electronic companies. Many consumer brands, including Lenovo, Dell, HP, Toshiba, Asus, Nikon etc. have vaguely issued statements that hinted that they might not honor warranties on products sold through e-commerce sites. This is because they too are not sure of the genuineness of the products.

On PriceMap, we have had a situation several times where local retailers have not responded to a purchase query for a particular brand of watch, which is very popular among youth. When queried, the response has been that “buyer is looking at fake watch on-line and we can’t match the price of a fake with a genuine one as the former is being sold at 60% discount to the MRP!!”

And God forbid, if you become the victim of having been delivered a fake product, you should be mentally prepared to go through a harrowing experience… File a complaint in this regard with your favorite portal and you will be shocked to see them shunning their responsibility by simply quoting that they are not liable for the products or services listed on the site as they are only a marketplace, and that the responsibility for any such lapse lies with the manufacturer or seller. They even manage to get away with it because legally, aggregators and marketplaces are only intermediaries but hold no liability as per the IT Act (2008).

It is very easy to understand my dear friend that these deep-pocketed VC-backed online shopping portals will have customers queuing up with orders only until they offer irresistible discounts. But VC funding cannot sustain them forever. The day the discounts are done away with and it’s a level playing field for all is when they will get a reality check. For once, they will understand that winning the game will take much more than luring customers with ‘unbelievable deals and discounts’.