21st Jan 2019

Brussels keen to boost cross-border online shopping

  • Only seven percent of the EU's adult population is shopping online. (Photo: European Commission)

Brussels will on Wednesday (8 October) propose new rules aiming to improve consumer protection in the EU and encourage European consumers to better exploit the potential of online shopping.

One of the key goals of the European Commission with this proposal – seen by EUobserver – is to boost cross-border shopping online, which it says is not yet sufficiently developed in the bloc.

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According to commission figures, of the 300 million people currently using the internet in the EU, 150 million use the web for shopping – but only 30 million, or seven percent of the EU's adult population, engage in the activity across borders.

Additionally, the figures vary strongly among member states, with 68 percent of Dutch citizens having made an online purchase in the past 12 months compared to four percent of Bulgarians, or seven percent of Romanians.

Besides feeling more confident shopping online in their own country, customers are simply "not aware of the opportunities that are out there if they shop around online," Brussels says.

The commission has looked into the prices of a number of goods in the different member states and found that the same digital camera in March this year cost around €198 in the UK, €254 in Ireland, €276 in Belgium, and the price was as high as €306 in Finland.

It found similar differences for iPods, perfumes, furniture, cars and clothes.

Consequently, even if delivery costs are included, it is sometimes cheaper to order a product online from another EU state than to buy it from one's home country.

The new rules

The new Consumer Rights Directive that will be presented by EU commissioner for consumer affairs Meglena Kuneva on Wednesday aims to reassure European buyers by giving them more rights, wherever in the EU they shop – including online.

Among other things, it would oblige sellers to provide their consumers with a "clear set of information" – such as main characteristics of the product, geographical address, or the price inclusive of all taxes.

The directive would also contain EU-wide rules on delivery, setting a limit of 30 calendar days for a product to be delivered to the consumer, with the seller bearing the risk of possible deterioration or loss of the good.

In case of a problem or a faulty product, the consumer would have a right to a refund "as soon as possible and no later than seven days from the date of delivery."

When it comes to long-distance sales – including via the web – an EU-wide "cooling off" period of 14 calendar days would be introduced, during which costumers could change their mind and decide to return a product.

Additionally, a so-called blacklist of unfair contract terms would be set up, prohibiting formulations giving the sellers certain rights at the expense of the buyers, such as allowing them to alter the terms of the contract without the clients' consent, or relieving them of responsibilities "for mistakes made by [their] agents."

After being presented on Wednesday, the directive will also have to be approved by the European Parliament and EU member states before becoming law.

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