Former Secretary, Government of India and noted author Dr Aruna Sharma questioned the ‘exaggerated threat perception’ being created against e-commerce companies and emphasised the need to respect consumers’ choice.
“A similar fear was there when big retail shops (malls) came up, people used to say that the small shops will disappear but what happened it had a minimal impact on their business. Similarly, When computers came into the government offices, people thought that they will lose their jobs, but it turned out to be a better utilisation of time,” Dr Sinha told The Plunge Daily on the sidelines of a panel discussion organised by PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“With increasing digital foot print, consumers have access to more choices. So, if they want to make purchases from the comfort of home and pay digitally, we have to respect that choice,” she added.
Dr Sharma stressed the need to build a strong grievance redressal system without overregulating the business.
“Firstly, we must not confuse with the ownership part of it and we must treat e-commerce as a platform like any shopkeeper. Instead of brick and mortar, your are purchasing from online retailers. Secondly, it is important to look at it from the consumer’s standpoint-we must have a quick grievance redressal mechanism- where in some cases, onus will fall back on suppliers, in delivery-related issues, it could be the platform, and some issues may be payment-related. So, we need to recognise that e-commerce is just an intermediary and whatever is applicable to, say, an intermediary like a payment gateway, will be applicable to ecommerce platforms as well.
Underlining the critical role played by e-commerce platform in transforming the SME segment, Dr Sharma noted that business-friendly polices of government have catapulted this change.
“One one hand, there are well-thought out MSME policies to support expansion of the business, on the other hand, there are ecommerce platforms, which enabled them to explore the new markets by placing their products and getting an immediate real time feedbacks,” she said.
It is equally important to understand that if we want to create big market for MSMES or talk about ‘one district one product’ scheme, we need platforms that can take care of logistics, business expansion and get us quick customer feedback, she added.
Ms Sharma also pointed out the lack of clarity among certain sections regarding the ongoing discourse about foreign firms investing in India
“If a foreign firm is investing in India and have registered in the country, it becomes an Indian company. It will be subject to laws and regulations as applicable to other domestic companies. If you look at the funding patterns, every big domestic firm has investment from foreign entities. So, in that sense, there is no Indian company. Moreover, we have been encouraging 100% FDI in many sectors, so we need to have clarity on such issues, she said.
Ms Sharma also spoke about the evolution of a hybrid ecosystem which is empowering consumers with through an omnichannel experience.
“Hybrid models are also coming up. It has evolved during pandemic where a person can have an option to either visit the physical store or order the same through their online store and get the product delivered at home. Also, ecommerce portals are roping in local vendors, Kirana stores for last mile delivery. So, the change is inevitable and this is how both can co-exist,” she added.