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The European Commission sheds light on territorial restrictions in the online environment

The European Commission has published key findings of its survey on geo-blocking in the EU Digital Single Market (DSM), a practice which prevents consumers in a given country from shopping online from other EU countries due to geographical restrictions imposed by online retailers. Geo-blocking is a significant cause of consumer dissatisfaction and fragmentation in the Internal Market, as it limits consumer opportunities and choice when shopping online goods and services cross-border within the EU.

The survey was carried out through 'mystery shopping' in over 10,000 e-commerce websites in order to identify, among others, the prevalence and features of geo-blocking in the EU DSM, the stages of the shopping process where it occurs, the types of products for which geo-blocking is most widespread and the countries most affected.

The mystery shopping survey focused on those goods and services that are most commonly purchased online in the EU28, according to the 2015 DSM Consumer survey.

The survey found that in only 37% of all websites were shoppers successful in reaching the final stage of their cross-border purchase, as in the others they were geo-blocked at successive stages, as follows:

  • Denying access. 2% of all websites either blocked access or automatically re-routed the mystery shoppers.
  • Preventing registration. 27% of websites where mystery shoppers attempted to register as a necessary step to proceed with the purchase prevented them from successfully registering.
  • Refusal to deliver. After registration to a cross-border website was successfully concluded, 32% of online sellers refused to deliver the product or provide the service to the shoppers’ country.
  • Payment refusal. During the payment stage of the shopping process, in 26% of the cross- border websites shoppers couldn’t pay because their means of payment were not accepted/offered or because they were unable to successfully enter their card details.

It should be noted that, notwithstanding the legal obligation to provide information on delivery restrictions upfront, 44% of websites that were found to geo-block did not provide such information at any stage of the shopping process.

In general, geo-blocking appears to be much more prevalent with tangible goods than with services. Within the tangible goods sectors, it is highest for ‘electrical household appliances’ (86%) and lowest for ‘books’ (60%). The two services sectors investigated, ‘travel services’ (33%) and ‘online reservations of offline leisure’ (40%), are the ones where online retailers geo-block the least.

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