Informal stores operating via social media are getting away with selling fake products
- There are numerous individuals selling fashionable clothes, shoes, makeup and jewellery on social media. But a lot of the time, the products are fake or customers never get what they ordered.
May 8, 2019-
Sadikshya Mishra was idly surfing through Instagram’s explore page when she came across a photo of American celebrity Kylie Jenner wearing a high neck crop top with a criss-cross design on the front. The photo, however, was not from Jenner’s official account--it had been repurposed by a Nepali online retail store, The Next Fashion House.
Mishra direct-messaged the page, inquiring about the top. They responded within minutes, confirming the availability of the colour and size that Mishra wanted. They promised to deliver her purchase at the location of her choice, to be paid by cash-on-delivery, for Rs 1,050. But the next day, she received a completely different product.
“I was taken aback when I opened the package. Nevertheless, I tried it on. It was nothing like what they had posted on their Instagram page,” says Mishra. “I immediately texted them back. They apologised and promised to replace the top the very next day. That never happened.”
Mishra has been shopping online for six years now, and she’s had her share of good and bad experiences. Products marketed through various social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, are trendier and surfing online is much easier than moving through multiple physical stores, she says. Online shopping may sound appealing, but the experience of people like Mishra shows that shopping through dubious social media pages can often involve fraud and deception.
Mishra never got the top she wanted.
“They kept making excuses for several days and kept pushing the delivery date back,” says Mishra. “I told them if the same top wasn’t available, they could give me a different one and I would come pick it up myself.”
According to the Consumer Protection Act 2018, sellers are required to provide refunds within seven days if the consumer returns the goods. Since social media storefronts like The Next Fashion House aren’t registered, they also aren’t liable for any punishment or fines. And as there are mechanisms in place to oversee online shopping, hundreds of independent, informal sellers hawking clothes, makeup, shoes, and jewelry through social media have sprung up recently.
When the store failed to exchange the top even after a week, a frustrated Mishra and her friend made a different account and ordered the same top.
“They had told me that the top was out of stock but when I ordered the same product through the new account, they were ready to deliver it the same day,” says Mishra. When two people from the online store came to deliver the top, Mishra and her mother confronted them. “They had the nerve to bring the same plain brown sweater a second time,” says Mishra. “I was speechless but my mother handled it well and I got my money back.”
When the Post reached out to the online store, the owner, who refused to reveal her name, explained that “the incident happened when she was out of Kathmandu” and it happened because of “miscommunication between two managers of the store that no longer work for the store”. She went on to call such incidents “small matters” and said that “many of her customers even wait for a month to get exchange in case the product goes out of stock.”
However, Vishnu Gurung, another customer of the same online store, had another similar incident to relate. Gurung had sent the payment a week after she inquired about a top. But even two days later, she didn't receive her order. The store then called to inform her that the top was out of stock. “The store owner apologised to me and has agreed to send me a different product of the same price,” says Gurung. However, more than a week later, she is still waiting for what she ordered.
Gurung has had her share of bad experiences shopping online. The Judge Fashion Store, which sells through Instagram and is based in Kathmandu, claims to provide delivery all over Nepal within two days of placing the order. But Gurung, who lives in Pokhara, received a different product.
“When I messaged them, they asked me to send back the product and assured me that I would get my order soon,” says Gurung. She couriered the product back to them immediately, but nine months since then, Gurung has yet to receive her order. The online store doesn’t respond to her messages or calls anymore, she says. Even though Gurung has all the receipts and screenshots of the messages that may serve as evidence, unfortunately there isn’t much she can do to get her money back since the seller doesn’t have a physical store.
“Mistakes can happen, I understand that but they should take responsibility of faulty deliveries and replace the product,” says Gurung.
Judge Fashion Store didn’t respond to the Post’s attempts to reach them for comment.
Mishra and Gurung both agree that it’s a 50-50 chance ordering from an informal seller on social media, based solely on the photos they upload. But some online stores take advantage of the customer as they don’t have a physical outlet.
The government can track and monitor registered e-commerce websites like Daraz, Sastodeal, SmartDoko and Urban Girl to ensure that they aren’t breaking laws that infringe on consumer rights. But since online stores like The Next Fashion House and Judge Fashion Store aren’t registered, it is easier for them to avoid scrutiny and get away with selling low-quality and counterfeit products, and not offer refunds or exchanges.
As per Nepali law, any company or enterprise established with a motive of earning profit must register and obtain a Permanent Account Number (PAN) before operating. But these informal stores operating via social media aren’t registered and conduct cash transactions, making it difficult for the government to track their income and mandate that they pay taxes.
For people like Pooja Gurung, there is often no avenue to turn to when they become victims of fraud.
“Sometimes a damaged product is delivered, other times the delivery takes too long, and sometimes the product is not the same as advertised,” says Pooja. “I wonder if the owners of these online stores take us to be fools.”
A year ago, Pooja received a damaged dress and when she complained, the store owner blamed the courier company. Since then, she hesitates to shop online through these informal outlets.
“I only go through these pages on social media to keep up with trends and compare prices. I’ve had really bad experience with online stores,” says Tamang. “Some online stores have no exchange policy, so even the product that the customer receives is different, they don’t exchange it.”
E-commerce has become big business in Nepal, with the market valued at around $25 million, according to Daraz. Formal online shopping portal like Daraz and Sastodeal are leading the e-commerce boom, but even these portals aren’t immune to mistakes. In November last year, Daraz got into hot water with customers when its much-hyped sale was discovered to have faulty listings.
“Everyone wants convenience and online stores provide that, which is the main reason they are flourishing in Nepal,” says Salina Nakarmi, marketing manager at Daraz. “Without physical stores, online portals should focus more on customer service and providing detailed information about the product to customers.”
Independent sellers on social media often advertise trendier clothes than those that are not available in physical stores, which is why many prefer shopping from them. However, their service isn’t always up to the mark, says Nakarmi.
“A lack of skilled manpower, market research, experience and training maybe the reason behind this,” she says.
But Nakarmi urges that customers themselves need to become more aware themselves and ask for an invoice and VAT bills, as this will alert social media store owners to register their business, and could even discourage fraudulent behaviour.
Published: 08-05-2019 08:26