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"Online sellers must not turn their entrepreneurship to opportunism."

COVID-19, which forced an Enhanced Community Quarantine in much of the country since March 17, has highlighted the convenience of online shopping. This has been an option to many Filipinos for many years, but e-commerce as a safer way to buy products amid a pandemic.

Online sellers were given the opportunity to present their products to a much larger audience than if they only had a brick and mortar store, with online customers getting much more convenience, access to a larger selection and more competitive prices.

Research studies have shown that the Philippines – population 108 million people -- has more than 69 million Internet users, with three quarters of these users aged between 16 and 64 already shopping online, which has significantly become popular.

Through online shopping, a customer can save his valuable time, watch and select things he wants to buy. The items are received right at the customer's doorstep.

In the comfort of his home and without having to go out simply because of the restrictions, he goes online, lands on a seller's website, selects something, and arranges for its delivery. And the buyer either pays for the good or service online with a credit or debit card or upon delivery.

But there is a caveat from the Department of Trade and Industry, a warning that cannot be ignored even during the pandemic. The DTI has a proviso to online sellers to always come on up front, prohibiting the use of PMs or private messages, which the DTI said is illegal – a move to stop sellers from taking advantage of customers.

Republic Act 7394 or the Consumer Act mandates all sellers to display prices of products and that goods may also not be sold at a price higher than what is stated. The law is explicit on including price tags for all products of both brick-and-mortar and online stores, the DTI stressing "Without the tag would constitute the offense of profiteering, an illegal act of price manipulation."

Violators risk a fine of from P5,000 to P2 million and maximum jail of 15 years.

Imposing exorbitant prices or springing a surprise on potential buyers is simply unconscionable, and online sellers must not allow the baser desire for greater profit dictate how they conduct business. This is true any day, of course, but it takes on greater significance in extraordinary times like this.

Topics: Editorial , online shopping , e-commerce , Department of Trade and Industry , DTI , coronavirus disease 2019 , COVID-19
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