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At Large

Pinoy consumers and e-commerce

/ 05:06 AM September 04, 2019

Our household has only recently discovered the “joys” of courier/delivery services. Oftentimes, with only the hubby and myself at home, the more efficient and indeed delicious option come mealtimes has been to have food delivered, if not from the outlets themselves, then through food delivery services accessed through apps on our phones. Having food delivered through these e-couriers gives us the added advantage of choosing from a broad range of nearby restaurants, including stand-alone establishments.

At times, especially during the hectic Christmas season, we also do our shopping through courier services. This saves us from the hassle of having to troop to crowded malls, and with the COD option, we even have the chance to pay only for items that meet our approval. A friend has a son who has now begun an innovative service contracting with public market vendors around the metropolis to have fresh produce delivered to customers. We haven’t tried this option yet, but it does sound tempting.

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More recently, our household help has also discovered shopping by phone. Since courier services have refused or find it difficult to deliver items to their informal settlements, they have the items delivered to our doorstep, and while we really don’t mind hosting their courier shopping, we do draw the line at having to pay for the items when these arrive on their days off.

This is just the experience of one household. Indeed, according to CNN, citing figures from Statista, the local e-commerce market revenue grew to $844 million or P44 billion in 2018, up from $688 million or about P36 billion in 2017.

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Indeed, this signals not just the robust growth of internet and technology-based trade, but also creates new risks for the consuming public and government alike. These arise from unscrupulous traders and bogus firms or, worse, the use of couriers to transport contraband.

Regulation of courier and freight forwarding services is supposed to be carried out by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), for accreditation and regulation of domestic and international sea freight forwarding; the Department of Information and Communications Technology, specifically the Postal Regulations Division, for courier services; and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) for both domestic and international air freight forwarders.

At present, only 354 air freight forwarders carry a Certificate of Authority to Operate issued by CAB, while 769 sea freight forwarders are accredited by the Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau of the DTI. A total of 113 couriers are accredited by the DICT-PRD. But outside of these “official” numbers, unlicensed couriers also abound, some of them quite well-known and patronized, which could put their customers at risk of being hoodwinked, cheated or even endangered.

An added risk for customers is that even after discovering an anomaly, buyers don’t know who to run after, with no clear line of responsibility or liability. Some operators claim their drivers are simply independent contractors, making the firms simply facilitators of the trade. Who takes responsibility, for instance, in case of food poisoning arising from a food delivery by a courier service?

Even more alarming is that aside from small-time players, big-time firms have also joined the logistics field, some with no license to operate. One well-known firm named for stealth fighters is actually based in Singapore, skirting the constitutional provision on 60-40 ownership in favor of Filipinos by buying a local company while still maintaining its foreign name and structure.

Another “express” company has secured a license as a forwarder from the DTI and the CAB, but it reportedly still has no license as a courier from the DICT-PRD. A “black” company, for its part, has a license to operate only within the National Capital Region but is said to be maintaining warehouses in Mandaue City and Tacloban City. While these companies have been operating here for years, the responsible government agencies have seemingly turned a blind eye to them.

With the DICT now under the helm of former senator Gringo Honasan, can his agency be more serious in monitoring and even controlling the logistics service industry, totally eliminating the so-called colorum couriers and forwarders?

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When will the relevant departments and legislators act firmly and aggressively to protect local consumers?

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TAGS: At Large, delivery services, e-commerce, Rina Jimenez-David
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