The perils of shopping online

  • Despite the prevalence of online stores, customers are still hesitant to purchase their goods on the web, and rightly so
- Johnson Shrestha

Dec 4, 2018-

On social media and across the internet, advertisements from various online stores are ubiquitous. These stores advertise a wide range of products, from electronics to clothes. But despite the proliferation of these ads, very few of us actually click on them. Even in the few instances when we do visit the advertised pages, we tend to examine the products and read through the reviews. The chances of actually purchasing anything are quite low. Why is this? The answer is simple: trust issues. 

But despite our preference for brick-and-mortar shops, some online portals have managed to become household names. Even then, they get a lot of heat on occasions when they over-promise and under-deliver.

The very first online store in Nepal came into operation in 1999, but it was limited to sending gifts to friends and family in Nepal from abroad. The prices were all listed in dollars and were more expensive than the market price. It was only in 2007, when NepBay came into operation with the advent of faster internet service in Nepal via ADSL technology, the so-called ‘silver era’ of e-commerce began. But even after 10 years later, we haven’t been able to go beyond the silver era. Online shopping and e-commerce is developing, but at a very slow pace. 

In terms of numbers, there has been a huge growth of e-commerce sites in Nepal. It’s a challenge to even derive the exact number of such sites as some are simply stores that don’t even have websites—they simply sell their products through social media like Facebook and Instagram. The numbers might have increased, but consumer’s confidence in online shopping has not. The complaints about online shopping are the same: the advertisements always look better than the actual products. It’s worse when it comes to apparel—sometimes, the size doesn’t fit and other times, you don’t get the item you ordered. Many of my friends have reported being delivered the wrong colour or even entirely different outfits.  

To further add to woes, returning these products can be an even bigger hassle. Most online stores require you to go all the way to the store—physically—and explain your predicament, defeating the purpose of online shopping in the first place. And even then, the chances of your product being replaced or receiving a refund are slim. However, on the brighter side, a few online stores have started heeding customer complaints. Their product catalog is updated in real time, decreasing the chances for incorrect deliveries. 

And that leaves us with the elephant in the room—the prices. Online shopping was supposed to make shopping more affordable, but most customer experiences say otherwise. Almost all the prices we see seem more expensive than the market price. Although the point of online shopping is to liberate customers from the hassle of haggling for lower prices, waiting for various offers or festivities to get discounts on products may seem a bit frustrating to customers. 

Some online stores do have genuine offers. Most of the products where discounts are offered are either outdated or new products that didn’t sell well. Some even offer promotional strategies to get customers familiar with their products so that they will buy them in the future. Another is just buyers’ psychology—most people who visit online stores to buy something in particular end up buying more due to the discounts. This generates more sales, even if it means less profit on each item. However, there are some offers that are made to deceive us. Many online stores seem to offer massive discounts, but the prices are set exorbitantly high so that the discounts seem substantial but actually aren’t. When customers discover this, they are understandably incensed. 

Recently, Daraz’s big 11.11 sales—a festival originally promoted by Alibaba, the world’s largest online store and the company that owns—offered lucrative discounts on various products on its website. But a day after the big sale, many people began to criticise the online platform for faking discounts. I was also one of the customers looking for a good deal on a gaming mouse. After a quick research on the internet, I realised that the discounted price advertised on Daraz was higher than the normal price on international online stores. Nonetheless, I proceeded to purchase other items that seemed genuine. 

But Daraz is only an online platform—they have a lot of sellers and are not directly responsible for fake prices. They provide a storefront but individual stores and sellers are responsible for their goods and prices. This, however, is not an excuse. It is Daraz’s responsibility to filter fake sellers on their website and establish a credible relationship with their users.  

It is also important on the customer’s part to have a smart approach to online shopping. It is important to be aware of market prices, even when you go for traditional shopping. Similarly, a short internet search can help the customers differentiate between fake and genuine sellers. 

The law of sales of goods emphasises the doctrine: caveat emptor—which translates to ‘buyer beware’. It’s not possible for the law to control the pricing on each and every product, so it is on us, the customers, to be smart. 

All that said, a little feedback to such online stores when we see outrageous pricing always helps them maintain uniformity. Instead of always blaming online stores, let us ourselves be smart, which may well help in developing online shopping in Nepal. 

Published: 04-12-2018 08:15

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