Online marketplaces operate as a medium between buyers and sellers, quite similar to a mall or shopping complex. However, when there is a dispute between a buyer and a seller in the mall, they are able to sort it out without involving the mall authorities because of the physical proximity. The same cannot be said about an online marketplace. Buyers and sellers have greater possibility to indulge in malpractices due to the vagueness of the law, and the virtual presence of all parties.

Where does the marketplace’s responsibility begin and end? Some might argue that because the marketplace stands in a position of earning profits from the activities, it is responsible for those activities, and ought to have rules and sufficient implementation to ensure a peaceful trade.

Browntape decided to take a look at the limitations and definition of a marketplace’s responsibility in the grand scheme of things.

Responsibility towards the sellers

Let us look at a scenario. A buyer registers with an email id darkzorro123@(serviceprovider).com with every intention of making a quick buck. Dark Zorro buys products, replaces them with bricks and stones, and demands a return and refund claiming dissatisfaction. The marketplace refunds Zorro citing policy, and the seller is left to deal with the loss.

Or, Zorro is smarter than others, and uses technical skills to hack into the website to steal. Can the seller hold online marketplaces responsible? Possibly not, but the seller can look for some minimum protection.

Would it be too farfetched to expect online marketplaces to have a verification process before it registers buyers? Such a system exists before signing on sellers. Couldn’t there be a two or three step verification process before a person can start shopping? This can help screening buyers to an extent. Apart from this, marketplaces need to keep upgrading their security systems and watch for vulnerabilities and loopholes in the system that can be exploited.

Responsibility towards the customers

The sale of fake products in on the rise. ASSOCHAM had pointed out that the fake luxury market in India would be worthRs. 5,600 crores by 2015. This impacts the brands and online marketplaces reputation. However, is it possible for the marketplace to do physical checks on all its sellers? While there is a verification system, it cannot be fool proof.

A buyer should exercise due diligence by reading up reviews on the seller before buying and paying for a product. If the buyer has been conned, she or he should raise the issue with the marketplace. If there is no satisfactory response from the marketplace, the buyer has to move the court. However, this puts the marketplace in a sticky spot, as the buyer might file the complaint against it.

It is certainly the onus of the marketplace to provide a safe and clean platform for buyers and sellers to transact. In case of any untoward incident, the grieved party has to reach out to the marketplace, as the latter is what brought them together.

The need of the hour is to generate awareness on ecommerce laws in India. Online sellers need to keep track of laws and lawyers who specialise in ecommerce law. Online marketplaces should frame their policies with these laws in mind with the help of legal experts. They should also consider creating a dedicated panel to handle issues at their level. If things are not resolved at this level, the distressed parties can seek legal recourse.

What do you think is the definition of a marketplace’s responsibility? Should it intervene in issues between buyers and sellers or does it have diminished responsibility? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

If you are an online seller who needs help in organising your business, let us know. We are Browntape, India’s largest ecommerce service provider, and are just a shout away.

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