Amazon, Appario Retail Asked To Pay Rs45,000 Compensation for 17 Months Delay in Refund
Moneylife Digital Team 27 March 2024
Holding Amazon Seller Services Pvt Ltd and its long-distance unit Appario Retail Pvt Ltd deficient in service and responsible for unfair trade practice, the Delhi (east) district consumer disputes redressal commission directed them to pay a compensation of Rs45,000 for the delay in refunding money to a customer. The district commission also asked Amazon to display complete details of the officers dealing with consumer grievances on its site and provide a foolproof transparent grievance redressal mechanism.
In an order last month, the district commission bench of SS Malhotra (president) and Rashmi Bansal and Ravi Kumar (members) said, "...this commission is of firm view and that it is Amazon who accepts the orders from the customers, places the order to third party and concludes the contract once the goods are delivered to the complainant and that it is not (a) simple intermediary. Further, the documents on record show that the item was picked up on 9 November 2021 and the refund was initiated on 14 April 2023, almost after one year and five months after much deliberation by the complainant."
"It is also established that Amazon is not having appropriate grievance redressal mechanism and phone numbers of the concerned persons are not provided on its web site, which act, amounts to a deficiency on service on its part. This is also observed from the terms and conditions of the 'conditions of use' of Amazon that it has been using one-sided oppressive terms of the contract, which amounts to unfair trade practice on its part," the commission says.
Delhi-based Anil Kumar and Brijesh Kumar filed a complaint against Amazon and Appario Retail. They bought ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 (2021) for Rs77,990 by placing an order on Amazon which was sold by Appario Retail. Since the laptop was defective, the Kumars returned it and Amazon refunded the money. However, Amazon took nearly one year and five months to refund the money, due to which the Kumars filed a complaint before the district commission. 
The Kumars submitted that Amazon's grievance redressal mechanism is very poor and inefficient as Amazon's website neither displays contact details of the senior directors or officers nor contact addresses of the head office of Amazon and Appario Retail.
They further submitted that Amazon plays an active role in selling, storage, warehouse and logistic support and that the product is a part of 'Fulfilled by Amazon' service, which implies that the product is being stored, packed and dispatched by Amazon. "Not only this, Amazon is responsible for customer care and is duty-bound to ensure that its delivery or return pick-up system should be foolproof. Amazon has failed to attend to the grievance of the complainant, despite regular follow-up and has illegally retained the amount of the complainant, because of which the complainant has suffered a lot of mental agony, harassment and loss due to the acts of opposite parties for which he is entitled to be compensated, reasonably by Amazon and Appario Retail."
Both Amazon and Appario Retail were served notices. However, Amazon filed a written statement after the statutory period and the district commission ordered it as 'not to be read for the purpose of its defence' and the opportunity to file evidence was also denied. Appario Retail did not appear and was proceeded ex-parte
Although Amazon's written statement was beyond limitation and is not to be read for its defence, the district commission laid its hands on the conditions of usage filed by Amazon, the 'conditions of use', which states that 'they share information with third-party service providers and use third-party service providers to fulfil orders for products or services and to deliver packages.' 
"The word 'use' implies that Amazon acts as principal seller, who passes on the orders to the third-party service providers, which technically may be termed as the agent of Amazon to fulfil the order as per directions of Amazon," the bench observed.
Further, under the heading of 'pricing and availability', Amazon stated that 'we list availability information for products sold by us on the website, including on each product information page ….. as we process your order, you will be informed by email if any product you ordered turned out to be unavailable.' 
The district commission says, "The word 'products sold by us' leaves no ground to doubt that it is Amazon, who sells the product on their website and they are responsible for processing the order, which is further corroborated by the other clause under the heading of 'alteration or amendments of the conditions', which states 'we reserve the right to make changes to our policies and these conditions of sale at any time.' This condition also establishes that Amazon is involved in the sale of the products and has authority to change the conditions of sale."
The bench noted that "documents on record and the terms and conditions of Amazon establish that all transactions are routed through Amazon, contact also concluded at the end of Amazon and delivery of the product also taken place through Amazon only, which establishes that Amazon only is responsible and answerable for the supply and delivery of goods and liable for the consequences arising out of the breach of contract." 
"Amazon has also not had any full-proof grievance redressal mechanism and there is nothing on record that shows details of its officers or of the seller. Further, non-delivery of the pick-up slip by the pick-up person also amounts to unfair trade practice on the part of Amazon as in case of returns, the customers are left with no option as to the proof that item has been picked up by the right person," the district commission says.  
Further, the bench says though Appario Retail is proceeded ex-parte, it cannot be exonerated from its liability to provide correct and defect-free items to the complainant and to redress his grievances by providing a complete grievance redressal mechanism. "Therefore, Appario Retail is also held liable for deficiency in service on its part for providing a defective product to the complainant."
The district commission then asked Amazon and Appario Retail to pay compensation to the complainant for its deficient service and unfair trade practice that has caused mental agony and harassment to the complainant to the tune of Rs35,000 to the complainant jointly and severally along with interest at 7%pa (per annum) from 9 November 2021 (the date of picking up the item) and Rs10,000 towards litigation cost, to be paid within 30 days."
"Amazon is further specifically directed to make the provisions for handing over the receipt of the pick-up item to the customers in all the cases, hence may arise in future and ensure safe and secure pick up from its customers. In addition to this, Amazon is also directed to display on its site the complete details of the officers dealing with the grievances of the complainant or customers and provide a foolproof transparent grievance redressal mechanism," the order says.
Appario Retail was a joint venture of Amazon with Patni group-owned Zodiac Wealth Management. While Zodiac had a 76% stake, Amazon Asia Pacific Holdings held a 23% stake with Zaffre LLC holding a 1% share in Appario Retail. In 2022, following regulatory pressure, there were reports about the Patni group and Amazon bringing a new joint venture partner for Appario Retail to be able to continue selling on Amazon India marketplace.
(Consumer Case No516/2022 Date: 27 February 2024)
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