20 Qcoom customers get refunds for undelivered goods

Twenty customers of Qcoom, the e-commerce company which was shut for its failure to deliver products after taking payments in advance, have got refunds after the government stepped in to recover some of its blocked funds.

They are the first of 6,721 customers who had ordered products worth Tk 590 million. The refunds were given out to the customers at the commerce ministry on Monday.

They received more than Tk 4 million at the opening of the refund scheme, said Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh. The funds were drawn from the online shopping platform’s account with payment gateway service Foster Payments following Bangladesh Bank’s instructions.

Amid a horde of allegations against some e-commerce firms, such as Evaly and Eorange, over their failure to deliver products and pay the suppliers, the commerce ministry in early July last year issued a set of instructions for digital commerce companies.

It ordered them to deliver products within 10 days. According to the instructions, the companies will get the payments only after the customers confirm receipt of the products. In this period, the funds will stay in the payment gateways.

As the top brass of several online shopping platforms, including Qcoom Chairman and CEO Mohammad Ripon Mia, were arrested, 16 e-commerce firms filed a complaint with the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh in September last year, saying billions of takas have been stuck in payment gateways, a new development in the burgeoning, but scam-hit online business.

They said they were not getting the money from the gateways even after delivering products. Bangladesh Bank said the manual system of checking receipt confirmation from customers was delaying the clearance of the payment, but the money was “not stuck”.

Since 2021, customers have complained that many e-commerce platforms, including Evaly and Qcoom, have failed to deliver goods after they made advance payments.

Eventually, law-enforcement agencies arrested the top bosses of several e-commerce platforms and the companies were shut. But customers had not received refunds until now.

Launched in mid-2020, Qcoom had received about Tk 5 billion of payments from Foster. It still has nearly Tk 4 billion stuck with the payment gateway service, a lawyer for Qcoom had said, citing records kept until the arrest of CEO Ripon.

The blocked funds include Tk 2.5 billion of the customers who did not receive products, mostly motorcycles, after paying in advance, according to the lawyer. Qcoom will have to deliver 22,000 more motorcycles or refund the customers, he said.

Recently, the commerce ministry brokered a deal between the troubled online shopping platform and Foster for the release of some of the funds.

Qcoom still owes Tk 2 billion to customers, but authorities have yet to make a decision on that amount.

“We sought the opinion of the law ministry over the issue, who said that those companies named in legal cases and whose owners are in jail can’t repay customers. Qcoom is a company that has faced complaints, but not any legal cases filed against them,” said Secretary Tapan.

They took a no-objection certificate from the CID to allow them to make the payment through Foster Payment, he said, adding that Bangladesh Bank has been working on the issue.

The government is making it mandatory for e-commerce firms to get a unique business ID or UBID after discussing the issue with a few other ministries, said Tapan, adding they hope to roll out the system in two weeks.

As 20 customers of Qcoom received refunds, it will have a positive impact on the overall issue of distrust in the e-commerce sector, said e-CAB President Shomi Kaiser.

“It’s a golden moment for us. We need an honest institution when we attempt to solve a problem, and the commerce ministry has proven to be one. We believe a limited number of firms adopted dishonest practices in their business, but most entrepreneurs who are engaged in the business amid the pandemic are honest. Most are small and mid-size entrepreneurs doing honest digital business,” she said.

Those businesses facing legal actions for their wrongdoings should not be spared on any charges, including money laundering, said Shomi Kaiser.

The refund initiative is a “noble one” to uphold consumer rights and it will help the e-commerce sector to regain the public’s trust, she said.