Delhi-based Consumer Sathi is working towards becoming a one-stop destination for all consumer-related issues, be it complaints, filing legal notices, approaching consumer forums, or seeking damages.
At a glance
Startup: Consumer Sathi
Founders: Manav Bajaj, Rahul Sanal, and Jatin Choudhary
Year it was founded: 2016
Where is it based: Delhi
The problem it solves: Provides assistance for resolving consumer grievances
Sector: Consumer Services
Funding raised: Bootstrapped
The consumer may be king, but is not always treated like royalty. Despite having a clutch of rights, she ends up being taken for granted – and often for a ride.
“There is no doubt consumer awareness is constantly increasing in India. Consumers who have been deceived or exploited are increasingly approaching consumer forums or councils set up by the government for redressal of their complaints and settlement of their claims,” says Manav Bajaj.
However, he feels that it is essential to deal very smartly with the initial hiccups consumers could face in the form of MRP frauds or anti-profiteering complaints. That’s why he set up Consumer Sathi, aiming to make it a one-stop destination for all consumer-related issues.
Manav, the CEO of Consumer Sathi, believes that these problems can only be curbed by consumer’s active participation in exercising their rights.
From the beginning to the end
That’s why his platform encourages consumers to file an online complaint, sharing their grievances. Consumer Sathi’s team of legal experts evaluates the relevance of the issue. Further, upon approaching the company through calls, mails and legal notice, if the company refuses to respond, a legal complaint is drafted and filed in the consumer forum.
“The experts provide hands-on assistance from end-to-end, through the course of our client’s battle, which costs anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 3,000,” he says.
So far, the portal has received over 600 complaints and has a resolution rate of 85 percent. The platform has helped consumers get compensation from brands like Apple, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Skoda, among others.
Helping consumers exercise their rights
In India, consumers are vulnerable due to their poverty, illiteracy and lack of awareness of legal rights. As a result, manufacturers and suppliers of goods and services generally exploit them by adopting unfair and restrictive trade practices.
However, the government is doing its bit to strengthen consumer rights protection. It runs a portal where consumers can file complaints and get their grievances resolved online.
Recently, the Cabinet also approved a new Consumer Protection Bill that aims to safeguard consumers' rights and prescribes penalty and jail terms in case of adulteration and misleading ads by companies. The Cabinet’s nod for introduction of the Consumer Protection Bill, 2017, will result in withdrawal of a bill brought in 2015.
A Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) will be also formed to protect consumer rights.
Besides government measures, there are several forums like consumer complaints, national consumer helpline, india consumer forum and complaints where consumers can register their grievances online these days.
However, Consumer Sathi doesn’t only assist aggrieved consumers in addressing their complaints but also provides timely, affordable legal help.
Over a period of time, Consumer Sathi hopes to become a pressure group that helps to bring in accountability in the marketplace towards consumers and create more refined online platforms that can be used to mobilise consumers’ voices.
Manav says the highest number of grievances involve the insurance sector, followed by food and beverage and telecom sectors.
“The major reason for consumer failure in the insurance sector is that employees/ agents have a target-based approach; they often don’t hesitate to make false promises in order to meet targets. Recently, Ajeet Jadav, our client, received a full refund on the fraudulent policies sold to him by HDFC Life insurance, Met life and ICICI Lombard,” he says.
The eureka moment
Manav purchased an international label bag during one of his trips and brought it to India. But the bag was damaged because of a manufacturing defect within a week’s time.
When he went to the brand store in India, Manav recalls that the response was poor and highlights that his humble requests fell on deaf ears. His helplessness drove him to get legal help. But, the irony was that the legal help was costing him more than the actual price of the bag. Finally, the right guidance and legal assistance helped him get a refund within 24 hours.
“I have seen how systems in the western countries are so accountable to the consumers. Sadly, the same companies that are so consumer-friendly and consumer-responsive internationally do not do the same in India,” he says.
Though Manav got his reimbursement, it made him realise how the correct legal guidance and influence can resolve consumer problems effectively, empowering consumers.
His forum initially started as Hootzap and later transformed to Consumer Sathi.
Manav (33) shared his vision with his friends, Rahul Sanal (29) and Jatin Chaudhary (29). Having faced similar issues, the duo agreed to come on board. A former ad man, Manav had worked for over 120 ads and has also been a film producer before starting his venture. Jatin has a background in the hospitality sector and earlier worked as a sales and marketing professional for several hotels. Rahul has an MTech degree from IIT Guwahati and worked as an assistant professor at Kerala University for a year before joining Consumer Sathi.
The future roadmap
Manav points out that the brand has started work on a mobile app and plans to make it live in the next three to four months. Right now, the platform is backed by a team of eight to 10 members, including the founding, assistance, IT, redressal and legal team that has three lawyers.
Going ahead, Consumer Sathi is looking to tie up with lawyers in different cities across India to represent cases on behalf of consumers. The bootstrapped startup is hoping to generate funding from social engagements for further expansion and awareness.
“Our revenue is usually generated from the initial documentation fee and the profit sharing percentile on the compensation received by the consumer. Last year, Consumer Sathi has generated revenue of Rs 7-8 lakh,” Manav reveals.
The way forward, he believes, lies in empowering the consumer.