Japan eyes regulations for online sellers posing as individuals

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The government plans to draw up guidelines by the end of this fiscal year to regulate business operators who pose as individual sellers and put up defective products on online shopping sites, according to sources.

Demand for online shopping has grown as people stay at home more amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, leading to increased problems involving dubious sales. The government is therefore seeking to heighten the protection of consumers.

These will be the first guidelines specifically targeting such unscrupulous business operators online.

The guidelines are likely to cover online shopping sites such as Amazon and Rakuten, as well as Mercari and other flea market sites. If sellers who pretend to be private individuals on their account conduct multiple transactions to make a profit on these sites, the guidelines will allow the sites’ operators to regard them as business operators.

Specifically, the guidelines are likely to stipulate that a seller will be identified as a business operator if a self-proclaimed individual seller “sells a significant number of items, such as brand-name products, health foods and tickets,” or “continually receives evaluations and reviews over a certain period of time.”

Until now, shopping site operators have devised their own measures to handle such dubious trading practices. There have been no clear national standards to distinguish between individual sellers and business operators.

In many cases involving problems such as the delivery of counterfeit brand items, sellers posing as individuals disappeared and consumers were unable to contact them. Such cases sparked calls to create guidelines.

A new law to protect consumers from online shopping-related problems is likely to be enacted by May, enabling the Consumer Affairs Agency to ask site operators to stop offering certain products if business operators sell defective and other problematic items on their sites. The government believes that the envisaged guidelines will help site operators bar unscrupulous vendors.

According to the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan, there were 292,060 consultations about problems with online shopping in 2020, the highest level since comparable data became available in 2012. The center attributed the increase to growing demand for online shopping amid the pandemic.

In 2021, the center had received more than 210,000 consultations by the end of November.

According to Fuji Keizai Co., a research firm based in Tokyo, the market for online trade has grown every year, and is expected to reach about ¥15 trillion in 2021.

The Consumer Affairs Agency planned to present a draft of the guidelines to a council comprising people from academia, online shopping industry groups, and other members of the public and private sectors.