One of the ways consumer protection is coordinated at EU level is when countries run systematic and simultaneous checks to identify websites that are not in line with consumer protection law.
These checks, called sweeps, focus on a particular topic so that the issues in that area can be monitored and addressed.
How sweeps work
Sweeps operate in in a two-step action process, comprising of
- coordinated sweep action
- enforcement action
Coordinated sweep action
Countries systematically check for practices on different websites where consumer protection law is not respected. Examples of such practices include
- incomplete information on the trader or a lack of contact details
- incorrect and misleading information about any hidden costs
- insufficient information on product details
- unclear information on the right of withdrawal,return or reimbursement
Where coordinated checks find irregularities in websites, national authorities take appropriate follow-up action to ensure that non-compliant sites are corrected or closed.
What sanctions can be imposed?
The enforcement of EU consumer law, including sanctions and penalties, takes place at a national level. The positive effects of enforcement actions, however, are often EU-wide.
Possible measures include
- demanding that irregularities on the website be corrected
- imposing fines
- closing down of the website
Pre-contractual information sweep
A 2016 sweep focused on the quality of information available to consumers online before a purchase, the so-called pre-contractual information.
Pre-contractual information is regulated by the consumer rights directive. In total, authorities in EU countries checked 743 websites. Eventually irregularities were confirmed in 436 cases (63%).
As of October 2016, 353 out of 436 websites have been corrected.
The following issues were identified
- poor information on the right to withdraw from a transaction
- incomplete or unclear details about the trader
- failure to provide clear information of price or contract conditions
- unclear information on product or service characteristics
This pattern of irregularities occurs across different sectors, multi-purpose or specialised retailers and type of contract.
Overall, among the websites of specialised retailers with confirmed irregularities
- 29% were websites selling clothes, shoes and fashion accessories
- 15% were selling electronic goods and household appliances
- 12% were selling furnishings and home decoration
Travel services sweep
In summer 2013, national authorities checked websites selling air travel and hotel accommodation. Out of a total of 552 websites, 382 did not comply with EU consumer law. By the end of 2013, over half of websites have been corrected.
The main problems found were
- a lack of mandatory information on the trader's identity (162 websites)
- a lack of clear instructions on how to complain (152 websites)
- no 'opt-in' on optional prices, such as baggage (130 websites)
- no proper indication of the total price of the booking (112 websites)
Digital content sweep
In June 2012, consumer authorities in 26 EU countries plus Norway and Iceland checked 330 websites offering digital content products such as games, books, videos and music.
Only 50% of those websites provided satisfactory information to consumers. After the sweep, more than 80% of these websites were compliant.
The main problems found included
- unfair contract terms
- unclear information on the right of withdrawal
- lack of mandatory information on the trader's identity
Study on digital content (2012)
The objective was to compile a study on the European market for digital content products focusing on games, music, e-books and videos which can be downloaded or streamed.
The study examined the content of the web pages of providers of the 4 relevant products to check whether they contain, in particular, information on geographical restrictions and the way that this is provided.