Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shopping online? Be careful with third-party sellers

Nishant Gambhir is no stranger to online shopping. A digital marketing professional for a company that makes accessories for mobile phones, he is familiar with the world of e-commerce. But recently when he bought two items from Flipkart, he was in for a rude surprise.


"I bought a PCIe card for wireless network and a Logitech keyboard. The items were delivered to me," Gambhir told TOI. "But when I opened the packages, I found that I was cheated. The PCIe card was broken. And the Logitech keyboard wasn't new. It was one-year-old and had no warranty. I never had such bad experience with Flipkart earlier."


Flipkart has built its reputation on fast delivery and clean consumer-friendly service. But in the recent months its reputation has taken a beating. Earlier this year, the company changed into an e-commerce platform and allowed third-party sellers to sell goods through its website.


"The items I bought were not sold by Flipkart. They were sold by third-party sellers who list their goods on Flipkart," said Gambhir. "I never had a bad experience with items sold by Flipkart."

Gambhir tried contacting the sellers after receiving the faulty goods but he got no response. "This is when the Flipkart came to my rescue. When I did not get the response from sellers, Flipkart picked up the faulty goods from me on their behalf and refunded the money. So in the long run, no harm was done. But I wasted 10 days over the issue and I did not get the product I wanted when I needed them," said Gambhir.


As the popularity and reach of online shopping grows, more sellers are joining the bandwagon. For these sellers, companies like Flipkart, Amazon, eBay, Indiatimes Shopping, InfiBeam, Rediff and Snapdeal etc offer an easy option to reach out to customers.


Unfortunately, many of these sellers neither act professionally nor have the resources to offer the kind of service they promise. But consumers don't realize it because when they shop they believe they are buying from Flipkart or Amazon.


Flipkart doesn't sell goods directly. But after it converted itself into a platform, it handed over the front-end operations to WS Retail to sell items to consumers. Most consumers who buy goods from WS Retail still get good and clean service. They also get a 30-day return guarantee, fast shipping and impeccable packaging that keeps the items safe during shipping.


But the other third-party sellers do not offer the same kind of return guarantees or clean service.

TOI emailed Flipkart to understand the difference in quality of service offered by WS Retail and other third-party sellers but the company did not respond to the questions.

Flipkart, however, is hardly the only e-commerce platform where a consumer has to be careful.

Kunal Gangar, a blogger, bought a Sony DSLR camera from a third-party seller on Amazon on October 17.


"The seller had promised to ship the product by October 22 but it never happened. When I asked seller, he said that he had shipped the product and I would get it soon. Around a week later when I had neither got the product nor received any email or message from the courier company about the shipment, I asked the seller again. This time he told me that the camera has been misplaced by the courier firm," said Gangar. "I asked the seller to refund the money. I also contacted Amazon customer care."


While Gangar too got his money back, he said the whole experience was very frustrating. "I did not get the product I wanted to buy and I wasted my time chasing the seller," he said.

In comparison, another product — A Nokia phone — that Gangar bought at the same time from Amazon was delivered to him within days.

The difference: The listing of Nokia handset was a "fulfilled by Amazon" deal whereas the camera was sold and shipped directly by the third-party seller.


In reply to TOI questions, Amazon said that it has several safeguards in place to offer consumers best service whether they are buying an item from a third-party seller or from Amazon. "We offer a 100% purchase protection with A-to-Z Guarantee for all products bought on Amazon.in. It guarantees the condition of the item (defective, damaged or does not match the item described) and its timely delivery when you purchase from sellers on our website," said an Amazon spokesperson.


Due to the existing rules governing FDI in retail in India, Amazon here doesn't sell any items directly. Instead it uses "fulfilled by Amazon" to offer service that is better than what third-party sellers can manage. Any item that is sold under "fulfilled by Amazon" programme is shipped from an Amazon warehouse. This means timely shipping. Also chances of frauds are nil because the item is already in Amazon warehouse before it has been listed on the website.


Unfortunately, unlike in the US where amazon has many warehouses, in India sellers have to ship the products to Amazon's Mumbai warehouse before they can be a part of "fulfilled by Amazon" programme. For now there are very few items on amazon.in that are part of "fulfilled by Amazon" programme.


Tips for best online shopping experience
* On Flipkart, if possible buy only from WS Retail

* On Amazon, if possible buy only the items that are part of "fulfilled by Amazon" programme

* In any virtual marketplace, buy only from sellers that have good reputation (feedback score) and have done a few hundred transactions

* On eBay, pay through PaisaPay and get the items through courier. This creates a record of the transaction, which can be useful if you face issues with a seller. Also, eBay doesn't release PaisaPay money to a seller unless it gets a confirmation that the product has been delivered

* If you run into an issue, raise a claim with the platform owner immediately. Also, communicate with the seller on email so you have some documentary proof

* If possible, buy from only the sellers that list their contact numbers and emails IDs

* If possible, buy only the goods that come with official warranty and not "seller warranty"

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