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Shopping without borders - 08/10/2008

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Consumers to enjoy more rights under proposed EU-wide shopping rules.

Shoppers and retailers alike are still wary about doing business in other EU countries, especially online. That's partly because of uncertainty about their rights and obligations – rules still vary widely across the EU. Consumers are afraid they won't be protected against scams and fraud if they shop abroad. Retailers are reluctant to take on the risks and costs of complying with different laws.

The proposed legislation replaces four existing laws and covers all aspects of a purchase: product information, contract terms, delivery, returns, refunds, repairs, guarantees and cancellations.

Some countries already have comparable safeguards, but under the new rules consumers across the EU would be better protected. Traders would benefit as well, saving considerably on compliance costs.

A glance at prices around the EU shows it pays to shop around. A big electronics retailer, for example, was recently offering the same digital camera for €198 in the UK, €254 in Ireland, €276 in Belgium and €306 on its Finnish website. Similar disparities can be found for iPods, perfumes, furniture, cars and clothes.

 “We need an EU-wide safety net of rights so consumers have the security they need to shop around with peace of mind,” said consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva.

Besides protecting consumers, the rules would encourage retailers to explore new markets. According to an EU survey, some 80% of retailers don’t sell to consumers in other countries. Most would consider it, however, if regulations were standardised.

They are missing out on a potentially huge market. About 150m citizens – one third of the EU’s population – shop on the Internet. While so far only 30m of them buy goods from beyond their borders, that still represents €24bn in annual sales.

The new rules would:

  • require goods be delivered within 30 days
  • give consumers a 14-day cooling-off period to cancel a purchase (for reimbursement within 30 days.)
  • ban unfair contract terms
  • establish common rules for online auctions and increase protection against high-pressure sales techniques
  • provide standard recourse in case of defective products.

 

The rules have to be approved by the 27 EU countries and the European parliament.

Consumer rights - more information

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