E-comm firms start work on country of origin tags for over 600 mn products

Some e-commerce firms are also planning to conduct workshops for sellers to help them tackle the issue
E-commerce companies such as Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal and Paytm have started building tech platforms to ensure that the 'country of origin' of all products is clearly listed on their platform so that consumers can make informed decisions. Industry insiders said this was a huge task which included gathering data and feeding it to e-commerce marketplaces. There are a total of at least 600 million products listed on just four platforms, which include Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal and Paytm.

 
Industry insiders said that the e-commerce platforms had started working on the technology feature which involves a lot of coding, building algorithms and databases. The add-on feature would help the consumers decide whether they want to buy the products based on the country of origin. At present, consumers buy products based on details such as price, discount, delivery date, ratings and reviews.

 
“The algorithms would help the consumers decide whether they want to buy a Chinese product or not based on the information provided by the sellers,” said an e-commerce industry official. “For instance, when a consumer is looking to buy an iPhone, the algorithms would tell her, ‘out of the phones shown to her, which ones are made in China and other countries’,” he added.

 
These initiatives have started after the government gave the recommendation to online retailers that for new products listed on e-commerce platforms, the country of origin should be displayed next to the products from August 1, 2020 and for existing items from October 1, 2020. This directive comes amid a growing clamour for the boycott of Chinese products in India, combined with the government’s push for Aatmanirbhar Bharat. Sources at e-commerce firms say that they have requested the government for at least 3-5 months to comply with this.

 
“It is not business as usual. The engineers need time as they have to work remotely to build such tech feature,” said another industry executive.

 
Some e-commerce firms are also planning to conduct workshops for sellers to help them tackle the issue. Flipkart has begun displaying the ‘country of origin’ on select product listings.

 
E-commerce industry officials said investigating the whole supply chain to determine the country of origin for products and feeding that information into the marketplaces and maintaining its sanctity has to be done by the sellers. However, this is a daunting task, as the sellers have to include this information manually for millions of new and existing products listed on the marketplaces.

 
“Most of the vendors on marketplaces are resellers and they would be taking a huge risk when they are going to certify a product from a particular country,” said a person.

 
The department for promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT) had asked e-commerce firms to start compliance with the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules of 2011. The rules were amended in 2017 to also include mandatory declarations of details of products on e-commerce platforms. E-commerce industry officials said that there was no underlying law for the country of origin for all the products. They said Legal Metrology law was applicable to the packaged commodities and not unbranded products.  Also, some e-commerce firms had already made it mandatory for sellers to reveal country of origin details for imported items.

 
Salman Waris, managing partner at TechLegis Advocates and Solicitors, said there do exist challenges of authenticating the information provided by sellers. DPIIT recognized this limitation, during its follow-up meeting held earlier this week with about 30 e-commerce players. “It is, for this reason, no official notification has been issued as yet by the government and DPIIT is still in the process of consultation,” said Waris. “Further there is also ambiguity in the regulations with regard to the definition of ‘country of origin’,” he said.

 
Experts said the term “country of origin” is open to interpretations. A particular product could have the majority of its components originating in one country, while the final assembly could have happened in a different country. Most sellers do not have an easy way of knowing that.

 
Through Packaged Commodity Rules 2017, e-commerce platforms were mandated to show an image of the principal display panel, which is part of a product's packaging or include this information as text. Some consumers have said they feel putting up the picture of the principal display panel would be the best method to find the product information. But experts said such features not only increase the “compliance burden on the sellers,” but would also slow down e-commerce websites or apps. Sellers buying the products in bulk would also have to open the whole carton to take the pictures. Also, in some cases, they can’t take the pictures till the time they get the products from other suppliers.


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