Suffering lingers for duped e-commerce customers
Md Nabid Rahman, employed at a private company in Dhaka, made a payment of Tk 12.5 lakh to e-commerce platform Dhamaka in March for two motorcycles and other products which were on offer at hefty discounts.
He was told that the deliveries would be made within three weeks.
Nearly six months on, he is still in waiting.
"I have gone to Dhamaka's office several times in the last three months but it was closed. They hang up when I call over the phone," Rahman told The Daily Star.
"Finally, two months ago they told me that I will get my products very soon. But still I didn't get the products…I don't want the products anymore, I just want my money back," he said.
Fazle Rabby, who just recently graduated from a private university, went to the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection in late August to file a complaint against Evaly for not delivering products he had ordered and paid for.
"I ordered a motorcycle on January 17 from Evaly. Its market price was Tk 1.75 lakh. I was offered Tk 1.07 lakh after discounts. At that time I ordered groceries worth around Tk 20,000," he said.
"Evaly told me that they would give me the product within 45 working days, excluding government closures. And now it is August, I haven't received my products," said Rabby.
He said he lost his job in the Covid-19 fallouts last year and was now desperately looking for one.
"I placed the order for the motorcycle with money from my mother. I wanted the motorcycle as I thought I will start working in ride sharing. Getting back the hard earned money of my mother, who is in a low-paid job at a private hospital, is now uncertain. I feel helpless," he added.
"I have repeatedly called Evaly for the products. Every time they tell me to wait a little," said Rabby.
"They gave me a cheque of City Bank dated July and when I went to get the money, it bounced. Then I got a few calls from Evaly asking not to submit the cheque any more. The nature of their request is like coercion," he added
"What should I do now? So I have now come to file a complaint against Evaly at the DNCRP seeking my product or a refund," he added.
Five victims met Hafizur Rahman, additional secretary to the commerce ministry, at Bangladesh Secretariat on Sunday to share stories of their sufferings caused by Eorange by not delivering products for months.
Among them, Afzal Hossain, a final year student of a university in Dhaka, had plans of purchasing a motorcycle to make a living out of ride sharing.
He said he had placed an order for a motorcycle which had a market price of Tk 2,55,400 but was on offer at a 50 per cent discount.
Alongside, he had placed orders for some other products, borrowing Tk 65,000 from his elder sister, for which Eorange was said to owe him Tk 3,60,000 in total.
The five told The Daily Star that they want to get either products or refunds, and they also demand the government intervene so that their hardship ends.
Not only customers, hundreds of merchants have not received payments against products they delivered on behalf of such e-commerce platforms.
Despair looms over thousands of such victims as uncertainties have intensified over whether they would ever get back their money, estimated to be over Tk 1,000 crore in total.
Out of over a dozen companies being investigated by the government, three, namely Evaly, Dhamaka and Eorange, account for most of the victims. None from the three could be reached for comment.
Dhamaka's merchants have sought the commerce ministry's support in retrieving Tk 200 crore.
In a letter to Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi on August 16, the suppliers said Dhamaka was supposed to pay dues within 10 working days of supplying products to customers.
But 150 working days have already elapsed with 650 merchants still waiting to be paid, they said.
Dhamaka Managing Director Jashimuddin Chisty, who is now abroad, gave his word on July 13 to pay the dues but no payment has been made, said the letter.
The merchants urged for necessary steps on humanitarian grounds, prioritising the fact that they were small and medium enterprises.
"We have lost everything and we owe banks and our relatives a large amount of money. We have now been turned to street beggars for doing business with Dhamaka," said the letter.
How much Dhamaka owed to customers is not clear as it has not yet responded to a commerce ministry notice seeking records of its assets and liabilities, said a ministry official.
However, Dhamaka received over Tk 803 crore in payments made in advance by nearly five lakh customers wooed by different offers of hefty discounts, according to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
"The amount is possibly more…we are still working on tracing out other transactions," Md Humayon Kabir, superintendent of police for financial crimes at the CID, told The Daily Star.
Last week, the CID filed a case at Banani Police Station accusing Dhamaka's Chisty and others of laundering Tk 116.06 crore.
According to industry insiders, all of the e-commerce platforms being accused of fraudulence followed the same script.
Initially they do deliver products at hefty discounts against advance payments. Months later, once a substantial number of customers are hooked, they start, what can be apparently termed, ghosting them, making neither deliveries nor refunds.
The pandemic proved a boon for e-commerce and on the flip side, such controversial business models.
It all started out with Evaly, which, much like the pied piper of Hamelin, drew in droves of customers with astounding cash backs and hefty discounts since its inception near the end of 2018.
A Bangladesh Bank report indicates that Evaly might not be able to pay up for liabilities accrued with customers and merchants.
Different government agencies have launched investigations against e-commerce companies over allegations of embezzlement, breach of competition rules and money laundering.
Last month, in a reply to a commerce ministry show-cause notice, Evaly said its liabilities with customers and merchants stood at Tk 543 crore as of mid-July, which is 35 per cent higher than the amount found by an initial probe of the central bank.
Encouraged by the discount offers, many customers had turned into investors, buying products from the e-commerce platforms and then reselling it at profits.
But not all were able to make it. Adit Hossain, a final year private university student, placed an order for seven motorcycles and some gift vouchers at Eorange making an advance payment of Tk 13.98 lakh in May.
"They promised to deliver the products within 45 days. Over three months have passed but I did not get my products," he said.
He had gathered the money selling off his own motorcycle, taking a loan of Tk 3 lakh from his father and convincing his cousin to provide the rest on condition they would share the profit from the resale of the motorcycles.
"Now they are not receiving phone calls. I don't know what's in my fortune," said Hossain.
A customer filed a case with Gulshan Police Station on August 16 accusing Eorange of embezzling nearly Tk 1,100 crore by not delivering any product since April 28 despite advance payments being made.
In the case statement, complainant Md Taherul Islam said the products were supposed to be delivered within an agreed period but that did not happen.
The next day, two former owners of the e-commerce platform surrendered before a Dhaka court which sent them to jail rejecting bail pleas.
According to Aminul Islam, officer-in-charge (investigation), the investigation was still underway and they were trying to secure evidence.
According to an official of e-commerce platform Aladinerprodip, it has so far provided refunds against 17,000 orders and still had over 8,000 to go.
Sirajganj Shop has so far provided refunds against over 95,000 orders and had over 7,000 more to go, said an official of the e-commerce platform.