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Online shoppers protected with a hotline?

Department of Economic Development

Whenever an industry grows to a staggering size, like the online retail sector in the UAE, somebody needs to step up and regulate it before it is too late

August 5, 2012 10:20 by

Buying products and services through the web with a plastic card is a relatively new concept, despite the technological advancements of today’s world. Had it been suggested a few decades ago one would have been called insane, but the truth is, some may still call you insane now because trust is an extremely important aspect of being a member of the online retail game, but not as a worker, as a customer and trust is gained with difficulty but easily lost.

There are more than 100 websites offering e-commerce facilities in the UAE and the value of online purchases in the UAE have crossed AED 7 billion. When you match these numbers against the population of the country – the fraction that actually has disposable income – the reality is staggering. With the insanely progressive amounts of online purchases happening everyday in the UAE, the Department of Economic Development felt it was time to take a step, but considering the level of fraud on the rise, perhaps taking ten steps would be deemed more adequate.

“A significant level of retailing happens online in Dubai nowadays and the number of such transactions is growing. Online purchases are seen as more convenient and the choices are varied. The UAE being the leader in Internet usage in the region and the easy availability of credit cards in the country makes it easier to shop online,” Bushahab, CEO of the Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection said.

But being the leader in Internet usage is no matter to take lightly, especially if the final result is injury to customers’ wallets and sense of trust when dealing with what are meant to be established companies. What sense of accomplishment exists in building trust among the growing number of Internet users only for them to fall like a pile of cheap bricks? The ‘stakeholders’ of the Internet must attempt to avoid a mental link in the heads of ‘netizens’ between harm and the use of Internet.

The fact of the matter is that, customers in the UAE are flaky (particularly according to many online retailers) and will go for the next best bargain, and that is one of the sole factors that motivate the online deal sites to set up ‘shop’ here. It is not that there is an excessive amount of screaming demand but rather a deep gold mine with lots of digging to do; can we blame them for salivating at the sight of our pockets?

But now, after a ‘DED Intervention’, these companies have been given a three-month deadline to comply with the DED’s new regulation that stipulates that they must display the authority’s complaint hotline on their website  in order to enhance consumer protection. We are not sure how much damage that will do to their performance but a bark may be worse than the bite and this red light may be a motive for them to shape up or get out.

Rather than disregarding the actions taken by the  authorities, one may better observe the punctuality of them. There are always companies, even ones controlled by the state, which continue to step out of line. However, they continue to receive gracious grace periods to commit to a newly implemented regulation instead of a stronger and more urgent smack. There are hundreds and hundreds of dissatisfied and cheated customers as a result of this new e-commerce explosion in the country and the authorities will need to thrust some wedges in between.

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