Online shopping from other EU countries: how safe and easy is it?
Have you been tempted by a cheaper online offer from another EU country but wondering how reliable it is to shop from abroad?
'Mystery shoppers' from the EU-supported European Consumer Centres' Network have checked just that.
Their report (State of the e-Union) shows the results of actual purchases in 28 countries.
Mystery shoppers in 17 European Consumer Centres i made a total of 305 online purchases from foreign EU-based traders in 28 countries.
The products were then returned in line with 'cooling-off' rules (which allow online shoppers to send the product back without giving any particular reason and get a full refund).
A summary of key findings is below:
94%of the products were delivered, up from 66% in 2003 (when ECC-Net last did a similar exercise).
This confirms the Commission's March 2011 findings suggesting that delivery for cross-border purchases within the EU is as reliable as for domestic ones or even more (with the product not arriving in 5% of cross-border cases compared with 6% of domestic orders).
Only 1% of products were faulty (e.g. a book with a damaged cover) or different from what was ordered (e.g. wrong colour).
Returning products and reimbursements:
When shoppers returned the products under the 'cooling-off' rules, the product cost was reimbursed in 90% cases.
However, 57% of shoppers had problems getting reimbursed for the original delivery costs, as required under EU rules. Also, some traders placed illegal restrictions on returning the goods (e.g. by telling the shoppers that they had no such right).
Under EU rules, consumers can cancel an online order for any reason within at least 7 days from receiving it (more in some countries), and send it back to the seller (though they may have to pay the cost of shipping the product back).
Website friendliness to cross-border sales
The foreign websites were originally preselected based on a set of minimum criteria for 'cross-border friendliness' (such as the willingness to sell abroad as well as payment and language options).
But in practice 60% of these sites presented difficulties which made them unsuitable for online shoppers from other countries (e.g. because the delivery to the consumer's country was not in fact possible).
A 2009 EU Commission study also found that 60% of cross-border online orders were refused.
How do European Consumer Centres help?
The European Consumer Centres' Network (ECC-Net) covers 29 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland). The Centres are co-financed by the European Commission and national authorities.
The Centres offer practical help and advice to consumers buying goods and services from traders based in other EU countries (as well as in Norway and Iceland).
Full details on ECC-Net including case studies: http://ec.europa.eu/ecc-net
What is next?
The EU Commission wants to keep making things work better for online shoppers in the EU-wide market.
At the end of 2011, the Commission will present a study on the savings potential of e-commerce for consumers. This will feed into an action plan entirely devoted to the development of e-commerce in the single market and to removing existing barriers.
As part of the plan, the Commission wants to table an ambitious legislative proposal which will allow consumers shopping online from other EU countries to solve their disputes with foreign EU-based traders entirely online as an alternative to going to court. This is expected before the end of 2011.
The full report can be found at http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/ecc/consumer_reports_en.htm