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Consultation and studies

In line with the Commission’s minimum standards regarding participation and openness to stakeholders' views presented in the Better Regulation Guidelines, an extensive consultation strategy has been developed to ensure a wide participation throughout the policy cycle of this initiative. This strategy was based on a mix of public and targeted consultations. The Commission has sought a wide and balanced range of views on this issue by giving the opportunity to all relevant parties (businesses, consumers, national authorities, lawyers and academics) to express their opinions.

The extensive consultation process included a public consultation, specific consultations targeting main stakeholders and Member States as well as consumers and businesses surveys.

1.    Public consultation

2.    Specific consultations targeting main stakeholders:

a.    The Stakeholder Consultation Group for consumer rules for online and Digital Purchases ("Stakeholder Consultation Group") was set up at the beginning of 2015 and was composed of 22 organisations representing a wide range of interests from consumers to SMEs, retailers, e-commerce operators, online platform, manufacturers, legal professions, marketing professional and content developers and providers. The Stakeholder Consultation Group was tasked to assist the Commission in identifying the problematic areas to tackle the contract law obstacles related to the online purchases of digital content and tangible goods and to discuss possible solutions. The group met 7 times from January to October 2015.

b.    Workshops with Member States: Three workshops with Member States were organised. At the first workshop (June 5, 2015) the discussion focussed on the general approach that should be adopted by the Commission for this new initiative and key contract law issues regarding digital content. The second workshop (July 6, 2015) was devoted to discuss issues related to the online sales of tangible goods. The third workshop (6 October, 2015) was devoted to discuss in more detailed the draft rules that Commission services are considering. The relevant issues were also discussed with national enforcement authorities at the Consumer Protection Cooperation committee meeting (April 28, 2015) and the national authorities responsible for consumer policy at the Consumer Policy Network meeting (May 5-6, 2015)

c.    A number of bilateral meetings were held with Member States which have started preparatory work for legislation on digital content. Bilateral technical meetings have also been held with other Member States.

d.    The Digital Single Market Sub-Group of the European Consumer Consultative Group (ECCG) composed of 12 representatives of national consumer organisations has produced recommendations on how to tackle contract law obstacles related to the online purchases of digital content and tangible goods. The Group recommended in particular a revision of the Sales and Guarantee Directive as well as of the Unfair Terms Directive, insisted on better enforcement of legislation and considered that there should not be two different regimes for online and offline transactions.

e.    In-depth interviews with businesses active or interested in cross-border e-commerce from different Member States were conducted from June to August 2015.

3.   Consumers and businesses surveys

Consumers were directly consulted through surveys carried out by the Commission. Within the framework of the Digital Single Market Strategy, two surveys were carried out in 2015 to identify the main cross-border obstacles to the Digital single market:
-    A consumer survey carried out in all 28 Member States. More than 23 000 respondents were asked about their online purchasing activity in each Member State and cross-border, both for tangible goods and digital content, as well as in Norway and Iceland. Consumers were also interviewed on their perceptions and behavioural motivations that drive or impede cross-border and domestic online purchasing activity on the internet
-    A business survey carried out in 26 Member States. 8 705 respondents were asked about their online selling and purchasing activity, both domestically and cross-border, their experiences with cross-border selling and purchasing, the problems they encounter and the main reasons for not-selling cross-border online.

As part of an economic study on consumer digital content products, 1 000 consumers in each of 15 Member States were asked about the type of problems they have encountered when purchasing digital content. Businesses were also directly consulted by means of a series of 20-30 business interviews conducted in each of the 15 selected Member States. Individual businesses including SMEs were asked to identify the main problems they face when selling/providing digital content to consumers, domestically and cross-border.