Every person has a right to file the following types of consumer complaints under consumer protection law:
“E-commerce” means buying or selling goods or services (including digital products) over digital or electronic networks1. It includes the production, distribution, marketing, sale or delivery of goods and services by electronic means 2.
E-commerce entities, such as online shopping websites like Flipkart 3 and Amazon4, have long been treated as service providers who work for a profit5. They have been held liable whenever there has been a violation of consumer rights. One of the major reforms brought about by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 is that it lays down a set of rules to govern these e-commerce entities6:
- E-commerce entities will have to respond within 48 hours of complaint.
- Complaints can be made from any place, regardless of where the purchase was made.
- E-commerce entities such as Amazon, Flipkart, are now required to display the details of the sellers, such as their legal name, geographic address, contact details, etc6.
- These entities must not directly or indirectly manipulate the goods’ prices, and must not adopt any unfair or deceptive methods of sale.
- They are prohibited from exaggerating the qualities of a product, and posting fake reviews.
- The law mandates the protection of consumers’ personal information so that personal details are kept confidential and the privacy of consumers is protected.
Complaints about misleading advertisements
An advertisement is a promotion through television, radio, or any other electronic media, newspapers, banners, posters, handbills, wall-writing etc. A misleading advertisement says untrue things about the goods and services, which can mislead the consumer in buying them7, quality and quantity8, or deliberately conceal important information about the product9 (such as known side-effects), etc. Advertisers can be sued for making misleading claims in their advertisements. These include claims of being the first toothpaste to have a certain beneficial composition when it actually isn’t10, or advertising schemes that seek to increase profits without passing on the benefit to the consumers11, etc.
Complaints about unfair trade practices
Unfair trade practices have a broad definition under the consumer protection law. They include false statements about the goods’ standard, quality and quantity, and the marketing of used/second-hand goods as new goods. It also includes false claims about a warranty, or the warranty period being scientifically untested, etc. This has resulted in several lawsuits, one involving a noodle-maker labelling its packets with false lead content12, replacing the labels of pharmaceutical drugs to extend the expiry period13, marketing adulterated goods with different ingredients than stated on the label14, etc.
Complaints about restrictive trade practices
Restrictive trade practice means a trade practice which tends to manipulate the price, or delivery, of goods, which affect the flow of supplies in the market. This leads to the consumers facing unfair costs or restrictions. This is usually done in some of the following ways: price fixing, dealing exclusively, restricting the resale values of sold goods, mandating that buying one good or service entails buying other goods or services. One real-life example of this is the inbuilt price of delivery and fixing electronic goods. This ensures that the consumer ends up paying for the service, whether they want to or not, making them bear unfair costs.
Complaints about defective goods
Defective goods are goods15 with any fault, imperfection or shortcoming in the quality, quantity, purity or standard which is required to be maintained by the seller, under the law in force. Some examples are adulterated or imperfectly brewed beverages, malfunctioning machinery, misshapen artifacts, etc.
Spurious goods are those which are falsely claimed to be genuine16 or are fake or imitative of real, original goods. These are often of inferior quality and infringe upon the trademarks and copyrights of legal owners of the original goods. A crucial example is that of medicines or cheap make-up products found in local markets. Often, spurious medicines are marketed under another drug’s name, or imitate/substitute another drug in a deceptive way17.
Charging above the MRP (Maximum Retail Price)
Overcharging generally occurs in covert ways, when sellers charge the consumer more than what is prescribed as the Maximum Retail Price of a product. It is a gross violation of consumer rights.
Complaints about food
Presently, the law also addresses grievances related to food products. For example, customers can file their grievances about packaged food like the presence of adulterant, expired goods, missing FSSAI license, etc. or serving issues like the lack of hygiene, presence of pests, etc. at the Food Safety Connect Portal.2
- Section 2(16), Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
- Electronic Commerce, WTO, accessed at https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc11_e/briefing_notes_e/bfecom_e.htm#:~:text=Electronic%20commerce%2C%20or%20e%2Dcommerce,and%20services%20by%20electronic%20means%22.&text=These%20WTO%20bodies%20were%20instructed,WTO%20agreements%20and%20e%2Dcommerce.
- Ajay Kumar v. Flipkart Internet Private Limited, 2018 SCC OnLine NCDRC 549.
- Kent RO Systems v. Amazon Seller Services, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 8016.
- Rediff.Com India Limited v. Ms. Urmil Munjal, 2013(2) C.P.C. 536.
- Consumer Protection (E-Commerce Rules), 2020.
- Misleading Advertisements, Department of Consumer Affairs, accessed at https://consumeraffairs.nic.in/more/misleading-advertisements. These advertisements may make false claims about a product or services’ usefulness((Section 2(47)(f), Consumer Protection Act, 2019
- Section 2(28)(ii), Consumer Protection Act, 2019
- Section 2(28)(iv), Consumer Protection Act, 2019
- Colgate Palmolive (India) Ltd. v. Anchor Health & Beauty Care P. Ltd., (2008) 7 MLJ 1119.
- Society of Catalysts v. Vodafone Essar Mobile Services Limited, LNIND 2008 SCDRCD 962.
- M/S Nestle India Limited v. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, W.P. L. No. 1688 of 2015.
- Pooja Roy v. Krishnango Bhattacharya, C.R.R 2796 of 2008, Calcutta H.C.
- Consumer Guidance Society v. Amway India Enterprises, (2007) C.C 140 of 2007.
- Sections 2(10) and 2(11), Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
- Section 2(43), Consumer Protection Act, 2019
- Drugs and Cosmetics FAQs, Integrated Grievance Redressal Mechanism, accessed at https://consumerhelpline.gov.in/faq-details.php?fid=Drugs%20and%20Cosmetics.