‘Consumer’ In The Era Of E-Commerce


With economic liberalisation, India initiated a path to globalisation of the market.  The effect of globalisation was evident on the Indian economy which affected the Indian consumers. Subsequently, there was a need to formulate a legitimate law to protect the consumer’s rights and save them from unscrupulous suppliers. Hence The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was passed by the parliament to govern the consumer supplier relationship and further to establish a redressal forum to protect consumer rights. Prior to the legislation the only remedy available to the consumers was through the Law of Torts. A civil suit for damage could be filled against the service provider. However, with the increase in trade and market, it was a necessity to formulate an appropriate law that could meet the needs of consumers.

Section 2(1) of the 1986 legislation defines a consumer as any person who buys any good for a proper consideration or any other means of deferred payment. The definition includes any user of such good i.e. a person who avails of such services hired in return for proper consideration. The section specifies that the ambit of definition of the consumer includes that person who makes use of such goods or services for personal use rather than for manufacturing or resale. hence seemingly the section does not include within it any person who makes commercial use of such goods or services. To have a better understanding for instance a person purchasing rice for personal consumption is a consumer according to section 2(1) of the consumer protection act of 1986. Meanwhile, a person who purchases the rice for his further resale at his own shop is not a ‘consumer’.


Due to evolution in trade and economy, the 1986 Act has been tailored and engineered in several instances. Significantly with digitalisation of market the was a dire need to amend the old legislation. The 1986 Act was brought in force with the desired objective of being socio-economic legislation .the Act aimed “ to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers.” To meet the said objective the 1986 Act was repealed by the consumer protection Act, 2019.  The consumer protection act, 2019 sought to provide a better approach toward the protection of consumer rights by increasing the scope of protection.

The consumer protection Act, 2019 aims at providing  “ for protection of the interest of consumers and for the said purpose, to establish authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumers’ disputes and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto” the act has included within its purview the issues that play a fundamental role in guiding consumer behavior in the 21st century. In our day-to-day life, we are predominantly dependent on our phones. Our crucial works are chiefly performed by the help of technology. Hence internet-related functions play a pivotal role in our life. Be it payment of taxes, fees, electricity bills to buying grocery, e-commerce has spread its web over our day-to-day activities. This new era of e-commerce has introduced several new pros cons of consumerism.

The Act has circumscribed within its e-commerce. E-commerce has been defined as buying or selling of goods or services including digital products over a digital or electronic network. The term consumer has also been widened to include persons who purchase online. With the explosion of e-commerce consumer shopping habits have changed. The inclination of people toward online shopping has taken a huge leap. Predominantly in the present circumstances, the ongoing phases of lockdown, due to the dreadful coronavirus pandemic in India has created a situation of animosity. The streets and markets which once roared with the hubbub of the crowd are on a still.

Subsequently,  people have taken to online platforms for ease of work trade. This pandemic has acted as a stimulant to the already booming online market. Hence, the 2019 consumers’ legislation is an act of parliament to update the law with the recent evolution of markets. All the electronic service providers are now covered within the walls of the Act. An electronic service provider has been defined by the new Act as a person who provides technologies or processes to enable a product seller to engage in advertising or selling goods or services to consumers and includes any online marketplace or online auction sites.

The word ‘telecom ‘ has also been added within the definition of the electronic service providers to bring telecom service providers under the new Act. Hence the Act has covered all aspects of online trade. The online service providers such as e-bay, Amazon, Flipkart or OLX and Quickrhave been covered within the horizon of the 2019 Consumers’ Protection Act. Therefore any person who purchases or avails any service online, including digital products over the digital or electronic network is a consumer according to the 2019 legislation. One significant addition that the Act has introduced is regarding “ unfair contracts”.The concept aims to protect consumers from unreasonable contracts.

A complaint can be filled by the consumers against service providers or traders if the respective redressal forum determines an act to be qualified as “unfair contract”.further “ unfair trade practices”  also includes electronic advertising which is misleading or refuses to take back defective goods or to discontinue any service. Therefore such provisions attempt to provide a more transparent market for the consumers and thereby to uphold consumers’ interest. The legislation has also declared the disposal of personal information in course of the transaction as offence. The stringent liability norms on product manufacturers and service providers entail promoting the security of consumers against fraudulent manufacturers and service providers both online or otherwise.


The scope of internet-related services is wide and it could also be defined as an unidentified territory. In India, we do not have an appropriate law to address the harm caused due to an online breach that poses a significant threat to consumers’ privacy. The Information technology Act of 2000 is not efficient to provide security to the users. The proposed personal data protection law is also under consideration and hence to date, there is a cloud over the question of user’s rights on online platforms.

Hence the relevant sections that intend to cover the area of e-commerce indirectly overlap with Indian data protection laws. In other words, we can also say that the 2019 Act of Consumer Protection can only fulfill its objective to provide better protection to consumers’ rights which also includes the online purchasers and online trade could be made safe by strengthening the Data Protection Laws in India.

This article is authored by Venkata Moksha, Second-Year, B.A. LL.B (Hons.) student at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi

Also Read – Evolution And Scope Of E-Commerce In India

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