In the pilot, which looked at a few hundred cases, Snapdeal and Sama helped settle a 100, with an overall success rate of 50 per cent.
Snapdeal began thinking of ODR about a year ago when they realised the long time taken for disputes between consumers and the platform.
“We, like most of the e-commerce companies, have a steady stream of high volume litigations, as we call it, where you have disputes around smaller transactions,” said Smriti Subramanian, General Counsel, Snapdeal. “Most of the disputes that we have are actually district forum cases and typically, we realized, that a consumer dispute takes about one to two years. We also realized that there is not much of a legal principle that these forums are really applying, it essentially is the most fact-based investigation and their own adjudication on facts,” she added.
The pilot programme, called “Sama Suljhao Manch,” managed to close some disputes which ordinarily take anywhere between 2-3 years, within 15 days.
In addition, Snapdeal looked at ODR as an opportunity to build a better customer relationship by easing out this pain for the customers. It also aims to make settlement of any commercial disputes as simple as buying online.
ODR is a consensual process between consumers and the e-commerce platform (in this case). A conciliator empowered under the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act supported by a tech-powered platform acts as a bridge between the parties and proposes legally binding solutions through the tech-based platform or through commonly used messaging platforms in a simple, informal and comfortable manner.
The public policy think tank of the Indian government, the NITI Aayog, launched a handbook on ODRs in April. In a draft report in October last year, NITI Aayog said, “At a preliminary level, ODR refers to the usage of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) tools to enable parties to resolve their disputes. This includes using simple to complicated communication technologies such as audio-visual tools ranging from telephones to smartphones to LED screens, spreadsheets, e-mail, and messaging applications, with the crux of it being to enable dispute resolution without the physical congregation of the parties.”
Snapdeal ran the pilot a couple of months ago where it sent some customers notice for conciliation, asking if they were interested in conciliation, and found that about 60 per cent of those who received the notice showed interest.
Sama has been working on the ODR space for almost six years now. “Dispute resolution is a massive pain point in India. It takes a lot of time, takes a lot of money. But I think it also takes a lot of mental toll on the litigants,” said Pranjal Sinha, co-founder and CEO, Sama.
Wanting to enter the e-commerce sector for a long time, Sinha said the pilot with Snapdeal was a very customer-centric approach. “It’s like telling them (customers) that this dispute has been pending for almost 12 months to 16 months. Let’s try to solve it amicably and let’s try to do it online so you don’t have to come anywhere even booking in Uber to a consumer forum for a pendrive dispute which is worth Rs 600 rupees is not worth it,” he said.