The aim of EU legislation in the field of distance selling is to put consumers, who purchase goods or services through distance communication means, in a similar position to consumers who buy goods or services in shops.
"Distance communication means" include traditional means of communication, such as press adverts accompanied by order forms, catalogue sales, telephone. It also covers other means of distance communication such as teleshopping, mobile phone commerce (m-commerce), and the use of the internet (e-commerce).
Distance Selling Directive
The Directive on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts applies to any consumer distance contract made under the law of an EU country. It provides a number of fundamental legal rights for consumers in order to ensure a high level of consumer protection throughout the EU.
The Directive applies to most contracts where a consumer and a supplier running an organised distance-selling scheme do not meet face-to-face, at any stage until after the contract has been concluded.
According to the Directive the following consumer rights, among others, need to be respected:
- provision of comprehensive information before the purchase;
- confirmation of that information in a durable medium (such as written confirmation);
- consumer's right to cancel the contract within a minimum of 7 working days without giving any reason and without penalty, except the cost of returning the goods (right of withdrawal);
- where the consumer has cancelled the contract, the right to a refund within 30 days of cancellation;
- delivery of the goods or performance of the service within 30 days of the day after the consumer placed his/her order;
- protection from unsolicited selling;
- protection from fraudulent use of payment cards.
The Directive will be repealed once the rules of the Directive on Consumer Rights will have to be applied in all Member States, i.e. by 13 June 2014. The Directive on Consumer Rights will incorporate the provisions of the Distance Selling Directive.
Outside of scope
Some types of contracts are excluded from all the provisions of the Directive, for instance, contracts for financial services and contracts concluded through an auction.
Other types of contracts are excluded from the core provisions of the Directive, such as the provision of comprehensible information before the purchase and the right to cancel the contract. These include contracts for services to be performed on a specific date or within a specific period such as hotel room bookings, travel or concert tickets.
There are also some exemptions from the right of withdrawal. These will apply unless the consumer and supplier agree otherwise. These exemptions cover, for instance, goods made to the consumer's specifications and perishable goods.
In 2006 the Commission published a Communication on the Implementation of the Distance Selling Directive . The purpose of the Communication is to examine how EU countries have implemented the Directive. All interested parties were invited to submit replies to the Commission by 21 November 2006. The Commission has made available the replies to the consultation and a short summary of the responses .