July 17: COVER STORY
Fake Lakme kajal sold on Amazon
Customers put at risk; Amazon apathetic to their health and safety
Online shopping is quite the rage today. A large number of food products, cosmetics, personal care products and even healthcare products are sold online. But is a consumer sure of getting what an e-portal promises him? Not always. Consumers can get cheated even when they buy from large, reputed companies like Amazon or Flipkart.
Fraud on Amazon
This was what CERCâ€™s Chief General Manager and Editor of Grahak Sathi, Pritee Shah, found out to her dismay. She purchased Lakme Eyeconic Kajal Pack of 2 from Amazon in March 2017. When she compared the labelling with that of the same product previously bought from a store, she found several differences. The product was found to be a fake! Both the manufacturer, Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL), and the Amazon seller, Sublime, admitted this.
Being an eye cosmetic, the fake product could prove extremely dangerous if it contained harmful ingredients like heavy metals or toxic chemicals. Shockingly, Amazon, with such a huge sales volume, does not seem to have a foolproof system to prevent sale of fake/counterfeit products.
HUL informed us that it had entered into a â€˜brand authorization agreementâ€™ with e-commerce majors like Flipkart and Snapdeal wherein only sellers authorized by HUL are permitted to sell products with high risk of counterfeiting. Amazon had refused to get into this agreement citing internal policies. Sublime is not an authorized HUL seller.
CERC raised the issue at a panel discussion organised by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MoCA). Amazonâ€™s director, public policy, Avinash Ramachandra, was on the panel. He contended that Amazon could not be held responsible if fakes were sold from its platform. His argument was that the Indian government had not allowed Amazon to be a direct retailer. Consequently, it could not control products that came into its pipeline, beyond preliminary checks.
The company which advertises itself as â€˜Apni dukaanâ€™, promises 100% purchase protection. It says: â€œAll sellers listing their products on Amazon are required to enter an agreement to list and sell only genuine products.â€
Amazon may have policies to ensure that only genuine products are sold, but clearly the system is not working. The company cannot duck its responsibilities towards consumers by saying that it is only an online marketplace. Amazon is the primary seller â€“ the customer has bought kajal from, and paid Amazon, not Sublime. Hence, he or she has entered into a purchase contract with Amazon. This makes Amazon responsible for a customer receiving a fake product.
No product recall
CERC repeatedly urged Amazon to recall the product and not wait for complaints. But, to no avail. The only action that Amazon took was blacklisting Sublime. The e-portal gave a refund to seven customers who had complained about the fake product. But, 340 customers had purchased that kajal from Sublime.
How would a customer know that the product he had received was a fake? A quick survey on Amazon by CERC revealed that there are 100 sellers of Lakme Eyeconic Kajal pack of 2. The MRP of the product is Rs. 360 but on Amazon it ranges from Rs. 140 to Rs. 450.
Amazonâ€™s review guidelines mention that not all feedback can be submitted for public viewing. So, neither price nor product reviews are very helpful to the consumer in making an informed choice.
Action taken by CERC
CERC met the Joint Secretary, MoCA, P.V. Rama Sastry, in April and reported the insensitive attitude of Amazon towards the safety of its customers. CERC was asked to send a formal complaint to the ministry for suitable action, which CERC promptly did.
HUL has also initiated a criminal complaint against the Amazon vendor â€“ Sublime. Pritee Shah would be a key witness in the case.
CERC appealed to consumers through social media and mail alerts to share details of any purchase of Lakme Eyeconic KajalÂ pack of 2Â from Amazon seller Sublime anytime from January to March 2017. If you have had a similar experience, please write to us with all details to email@example.com. If we get details from many consumers, we may consider a Class Action Suit.
Sign our petition
We have launched a petition on Change.org to generate support from the public and urge Amazon to stop selling fake and counterfeit products and have a product recall policy. The petition also urges MoCA to take steps to ensure sale of safe and genuine products online. You can read the petition on http://bit.ly/2qUwWvG and sign it to show your support.
We have written to Shri Ram Vilas Paswan â€“ Minister of Consumer Affairs, Govt of India – seeking his intervention. We also wrote to the Director General of Consumers International (CI), London â€“ Amanda Long.
What needs to be done
E-commerce companies should take the following steps:
- Conduct strict pre-vetting of vendors
- Carry out random checks of products sold on their portals
- Â Review customer feedback for products and sellers diligently
- Â Impose penalties on sellers who defraud customers
- Â Have a voluntary product recall policy
- Â Have a consumer alert system in place
Unless Amazon and all e-portals take responsibility for every sale on their portals, consumers will continue to be exposed to unsafe and spurious products. On its part, the government should come out with clear policies on e-commerce to ensure that consumers do not get cheated and shortchanged.