Promoting E-Commerce without leaving consumers behind

Lusaka, March 15, 2018

World Consumer Rights Day

The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Promoting E-Commerce without leaving consumers behind.’ E-commerce is when goods and/or services are offered through the internet. Amongst the main advantages of e-commerce is the ability for consumers to reach a global market. What this means is that technology is increasingly beginning to play a bigger role in our lives – not only in Zambia but in the world.

The growing importance of internet in Zambia calls for a serious consideration of a number of consumer issues in the area of e-commerce, but what is most relevant for today’s discussion is really the issue of the digital divide. The digital divide is defined as the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. How do we make sure that no one is left behind? Around the world, e-Commerce has changed lives drastically for both buyers and sellerswith emerging countries accounting for most of this growth but this issue remains a pressing concern.

According to ZICTA’s ICT survey report, in 2015, the proportion of individuals that knew how to use the internet stood at 8.8 percent. In the report it was marked as an improvement from 4.8%, which indeed it was, but what it meant is that over 90% of the population still had no access to the internet. And so, when we talk about not leaving consumers behind, it is this 90 percent of the population that was are talking about. These statistics however are at the national level. Disaggregated into rural/urban statistics, in the urban areas, 16.8 percent of individuals have access to the internet while only 3.2 percent in the rural areas have access to the internet.

Zambia is considered to have one of the highest inequality rates in the world. And in fact, according to statistics, we are worsening over the years. In 2010, as a measure of inequality we had a gini coefficient of 0.65, five years later this increased to 0.69. What this means is that the gap between the haves and have nots, the rich and the poor in our country, is worsening – it means that as a country we are leaving people behind. And in e-commerce we are already starting to see that trend – so what can we do to realise this year’s theme and ‘not leave any consumer behind’?

Some of the key issues that affect consumer access to e-commerce and the internet at large is the high illiteracy levels as adult literacy stands at 63%.Additionally high poverty levels also impact on ICT and internet use, as 40.8% of the country’s population reportedly lives in poverty. Another key constraint for inclusive e-commerce in developing countries, is the general lack of consumer trust and confidence in electronic commerce platforms, especially those that border on security concerns. Consumers that are online need the same protection as those offline. Consumers are concerned with data insecurity, inadequate T&Cs, lack of accountability, difficulty in package consideration, identity theft and fraud, irreversibility of payments.

To ensure that in promoting e-commerce consumers are not be left behind, all key stakeholders have a role to play. We therefore urge the government to create more opportunities for the adoption of ICT in underserved areas. It is important to ensure that infrastructure is rolled out to rural areas as this remains a key inclusive ingredient for most developing countries.

Additionally, there is a need for strong legal and regulatory frameworks which ensure that consumers are protected and can trust online transactions. These are critical in enhancing inclusive e-commerce. To this effect we applaud the Ministry of Transport and Communications, for introducing an e-commerce Bill to Parliament, which among other things will protect online consumers from unfair trading.

To our fellow regulators, we urge you to provide clear information on rights and obligations of business and consumers in the digital marketplace by service providers is critical to having an inclusive consumer base. This enables them to make informed digital choices. Consumers that are online need the same protection as those offline.
To our fellow e-commerce suppliers: while e-commerce remains new to Zambia, we share the same underlying aim of bringing about important and much needed benefits for the consumer and it is important that we ensure that those rights are not infringed upon by ensuring timely, quality and correct delivery of goods and services.
Lastly, to our fellow consumers: although we have certain rights that we must acquaint ourselves with, we as consumers should also seek to be aware of the risks and new threats so that we may enter the digital market as equal partners and make well-informed decisions.