The European Parliament has adopted rules on online retailing that afford more protection for consumers and add constraints for retailers. However, its new Consumer Rights Directive does not include the tougher demands that had been put forward by German parliamentarians – that online retailers should have the facilities to deliver in all 27 countries of the European Union and that they should fully reimburse the cost of returns. Such rules could have made it much harder for smaller web-based retailers to operate profitably, be it in sporting goods or any other category.
The directive dictates that European consumers who buy online have the right to change their minds within two weeks of receiving the goods (except for digital products such as movies). Furthermore, the rules make it illegal for retailers to add hidden charges through pre-checked boxes on their website.
Most retailers are relieved that the toughest constraints have been removed. However, some of them are unhappy that the directive still includes an obligation to provide consumers with an estimate of the costs they will face in case of returns.
This measure is strongly criticized by the French federation of e-commerce (Fevad), which points out that these return costs differ widely depending on each individual situation, with factors ranging from the country of residence to the choice of the transporter or the number of returned products. Fevad argues that the estimated average costs they have to publicize will therefore often be wrong, and misleading for consumers.
The directive replaces laws on off-premise retailing that were adopted before the rise of the internet and online retailing, and therefore offered poor protection to consumers buying online in other countries. As a consequence, the Parliament found that only about 7 percent of internet users placed cross-border orders within the EU, whereas 40 percent of consumers buy online. The directive has yet to be approved by the EU Council of Ministers, which should occur in July, and EU countries then have two years at most to implement the rules.