The sweeps operate in in a two-step action process, comprising of
- screening websites to identify breaches of consumer law in a given online market
- enforcement in which national authorities ask traders to take corrective actions
Sweeps are coordinated by the European Commission and carried out simultaneously by national enforcement authorities in participating countries. Sweeps were conducted in the following areas: websites selling air tickets (2007); ring tones for mobile phones (2008); electronic goods (2009); tickets for cultural and sports events (2010); consumer credit (2011); digital content (2012); travel services (2013); guarantees in consumer electronics (2014); Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU (2015); comparison tools in the travel sector (2016); and telecommunication and other digital services (2017); price transparency and drip pricing (2018); Delivery and right of withdrawal (2019)(see here the charts), Sweeps on consumer scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic (2020).
2020 – sweep on misleading sustainability claims
The number of environmental claims both in advertisements and on products is high and possibly increasing, at least in certain EU countries. It is essential that consumers feel safe that they can trust these claims. In line with the strategic priorities of the Consumer Agenda, the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) Network dedicated its annual sweep to investigate and assess green claims in various business sectors.
CPC authorities from 27 countries (24 EU Member States, 2 EEA countries and the United Kingdom) took part in the sweep during November 2020. They assessed 344 sustainability claims, primarily made by EU traders, aimed at consumers mainly on web stores, but also on traders’ websites. The sweep looked at various business sectors (textiles/garments/shoes were the most common, followed by cosmetics/personal care goods and household equipment).
In this EEA wide sweep, CPC authorities found that in almost half of the cases authorities had at least a reason to believe that the claim may be false or deceptive and potentially could be qualified as an unfair commercial practice under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD).
- CPC authorities examined 344 claims concerning the environmental characteristics of a product or a service sold online to assess whether these claims were sufficiently clear and reliable. Authorities based their assessment on what information was made available online. They looked at various aspects, including the description of the relevant environmental impacts and the availability of relevant detailed information, directly or through links or QR codes, against which to check the veracity of the claim.
- CPC authorities looked at what information was easily available to consumers to check the claim and how the claims were presented. They found that:
- Traders made their claims mostly in an explicit way by using key words, such as “Being an ecological product, its preparation is respectful of the environment”. 1.4% of claims (5 in total) were implied, by the choice of certain colours, images, sounds.
- In 57.5% of cases (198 cases), CPC authorities did not consider that the trader provided sufficient information which would allow to assess the claim’s accuracy.
- In 37% of cases (128 cases), CPC authorities considered that the claim included vague statements such as “environmental friendly”, “eco-friendly”, “sustainable” which aimed to convey the impression to consumers that a product or a trader’s activity had no negative impact, or only a positive impact, on the environment.
- Moreover, in 59% of cases (198 cases), CPC authorities found that the trader had not provided a qualification or other evidence to support its claim in an easily accessible way.
- On the positive side, in 76% of cases (261 cases) traders made their claims in clear language.
- The sweep also revealed practices blacklisted under the UCPD (7 claims), for example suggesting that the good or service had been approved, endorsed or authorised by a public or private body when it has not been.
2020 - sweeps on consumer scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic
Second high-level screening of platforms conducted by the CPC network in June
Consumer protection authorities from 17 countries participated in this repeated high-level screening of online platforms and concluded their assessment in 73 cases. In almost one third of these cases, CPC authorities found that the checked platforms still contain a significant number of dubious offers and advertisements. In 15 cases these prima facie findings confirmed the results of the May screening.
High level screening of platforms and In-depth analysis of offers - advertisements
CPC authorities of 27 countries participated in the high-level screening of online platforms and submitted 126 replies. Particular attention was given to screening offers linked to protective masks and caps, sanitizing gels, testing kits as well as food, food supplements and non-food products with alleged healing effects related to the coronavirus. In 38 cases, CPC authorities found a number of dubious offers or adverts concerning products misleadingly promoted in the context of the coronavirus, broad claims that a product was able to prevent or cure infection, and excessive prices.
In the in-depth sweep, 22 participating CPC authorities checked 268 websites (61 internet platforms and 207 web-stores), amongst which 206 were flagged for further investigation for potential breaches of EU consumer law.
Some of the key findings include:
- More than 30% of the checked websites contained products with claims of alleged healing or preventive effects against the coronavirus,
- 11% of the swept websites contained inaccurate claims on the scarcity of products,
- 9% of the websites were suspected of unfair practices to obtain excessive prices.
Moreover, CPC authorities also observed that in number of instances, consumers were not provided with clear and comprehensive information on the trader or on the delivery before being bound by the contract:
2019 - sweep on delivery and right of withdrawal
CPC authorities of 27 countries (25 EU countries, Norway and Iceland) screened 481 websites offering clothing and footwear, furniture and household items and electric appliances. Studies show that these three categories are amongst the top categories sold online. For instance, in the guide to e-Commerce in Europe, at least two out of three of the above-mentioned categories were among the most bought products in the vast majority of Member States. Consequently, consumer complaints on delivery issues often relate to these three sectors.
The exercise revealed that 67 % of the screened online shops might be infringing basic EU consumer law.
Some of the key results include:
- More than a quarter of the flagged websites did not inform consumers about how to withdraw from a contract. This must be presented in a clear and understandable manner, specifying the right to withdraw within 14 days of receiving the good without the need to give a justification.
- Nearly half of the flagged websites were not clear about the time-limit to return the item within 14 days from the moment they have notified the trader of their intention to withdraw.
- In over one fifth of the flagged websites, the price initially shown was incomplete as it did not contain delivery, postal or other possible additional charges or information about the possibility of such charges.
- Over a third of the flagged websites did not inform consumers about the minimum 2-year legal guarantee to have a good repaired, replaced or reimbursed in case it was faulty at the moment of delivery (even if this becomes evident later on).
- Even though EU law mandates traders to include an easily accessible link to the Online Dispute Resolution platform on their website, informing consumers on their possibilities in case of a dispute, nearly 45% of all the websites screened did not provide such a link.
- One fifth of the flagged websites did not respect the Geo-blocking Regulation which allows consumers to shop from websites not delivering in their country of residence, provided they can get it delivered to an address in the country served by the trader i.e. the “shop like a local principle”.
2018 - sweep on price transparency and drip pricing
In 2018, CPC authorities performed an EU-wide screening of 560 e-commerce sites offering a variety of goods, services and digital content, such as clothing or footwear, computer software or entertainment tickets. The results of the sweep published in February 2019 indicated that around 60% of these websites showed irregularities regarding the respect of EU consumer rules, predominately in relation to how prices and special offers are presented.
For more than 31% of all websites offering discounts (431 of all 560 websites checked), consumer authorities suspected that the special offers may not always be authentic or they found the way the discounted price was calculated unclear.
On 211 of the 560 websites the final price at payment was higher than the initial price offered and 39% of those traders did not include proper information on unavoidable extra fees on delivery, payment methods, booking fees and other similar surcharges. EU consumer law obliges traders to present prices to consumers inclusive of all mandatory costs, and where such costs cannot be calculated in advance, the fact that these may be payable by the consumer needs to be clearly indicated to the consumer already at offer stage.
Furthermore, the checks revealed that a considerable amount of the 560 websites checked did not provide consumers with an easily accessible link to the Online Dispute Resolution Platform (59%) and/or to accurately inform consumers about their right of withdrawal (29%).
Following national enforcement actions, 180 out of the 218 websites, for which further investigations confirmed infringements of EU consumer law, have been corrected.
2017 / 2018 - Telecommunication and other digital services
Among services markets, the ‘telecom’ sector caused the highest overall consumer detriment and displayed by far the highest proportion of consumers having experienced problems in the EU Consumer Markets Scoreboard – Edition 2016. The 2017 Sweep examined whether sufficient information was provided concerning the service provider, the main characteristics of the product or service, the price, the contract performance, and the terms and conditions of use.
The sweep field work was carried out between 1 and 30 November and screened 207 websites. The results show that many of these websites do not provide clear information on handling complaints.
- in 78.7% of cases, the website did not provide a link to the ODR platform;
- in 40.6% of the websites, there was no description of a dispute resolution system;
- 31.9% of the websites took the liberty of unilaterally changing the terms of the contract or the service characteristics unbeknown to the consumer and without allowing the consumer to cancel the contract under reasonable notice;
- 25.1% of the websites did not provide clear or truthful information about subsequent compensation and refund arrangements when the contracted service quality levels are not met;
- 21.7% did not provide clear and comprehensive information on the automatic contract renewal.
For more information:
2016 – Price comparison and travel booking websites
352 price comparison and travel booking websites across the EU were screened in October 2016. It was found that prices were not reliable on 235 websites, two thirds of the sites checked. For example, additional price elements were added at a late stage of the booking process without clearly informing the consumer or promotional prices did not correspond to any available service.
2015 – Pre-contractual information required by Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU
The sweep in 2015 focused on the quality of information available to consumers online before a purchase, the so-called pre-contractual information required by the Consumer Rights Directive. In total, authorities in EU countries checked 743 websites. Irregularities were confirmed in 436 cases (63%). 353 out of 436 websites have been corrected during the enforcement phase.
2014 – Guarantee of consumer electronics
The sweep in 2014 focussed on Legal and Commercial Guarantees in the Electronic Goods Sector. It took place in 26 EU Member States, plus Norway and Iceland in October 2014. National consumer protection authorities screened how websites selling mobile phones, computers, cameras, or TVs comply with the EU legislation on guarantees. 235 out of the 437 websites checked did not sufficiently inform consumers on their free of charge right to get defective goods repaired or replaced within at least 2 years of purchase. As a result of national enforcement actions, 82% of the websites checked were later brought into compliance.