New rules for ecommerce in EU

The European Commission has released proposed plans to boost e-commerce in Europe and build consumer trust.

On 25th May the European Commission (EC) set out a series of proposals for new e-commerce legislation that would apply to a broad range of online platforms, from the likes of YouTube to Google to eBay, as part of ongoing efforts to promote competitiveness in the region under its Digital Single Market Strategy.

Intended to allow consumers and companies to buy and sell products and services online more easily and confidently across the EU, the proposed legislation would forbid unjustified geoblocking, increase transparency of prices for cross-border parcel delivery, and promote customer trust through better protection and enforcement.

Commissioner for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said,  “All too often people are blocked from accessing the best offers when shopping online or decide not to buy cross-border because the delivery prices are too high or they are worried about how to claim their rights if something goes wrong. We want to solve the problems that are preventing consumers and businesses from fully enjoying the opportunities of buying and selling products and services online.”

The proposed legislation follows the EC’s year-long assessment of online platforms including online marketplaces, search engines, payment systems, social media, video and content-sharing sites . Rather than take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the very diverse range of online platforms, the EC has chosen to address each area where it can act “to address any specific problems in a future-proof way for all market players”.

In an effort to thwart geoblocking practices, the proposed legislation prevents retailers from automatically re-routing consumers back to country-specific websites without choice or notice; asking for consumer IDs; or being made to pay with a debit or credit card from a certain country.

To avoid introducing disproportionate burden on retailers, the proposed legislation does not impose an obligation to deliver across the EU and exempts small businesses that fall under a national VAT threshold from certain provisions.

While the proposed legislation does not introduce a cap on delivery prices, it does give national postal regulators the necessary resources to monitor cross-border markets and check the affordability and cost-orientation of prices. It also encourages competition by requiring transparent and non-discriminatory third-party access to cross-border parcel delivery services and infrastructure.

And, in an effort to increase competition and price transparency, it will publish public listed prices of universal service providers, and plans to revisit progress of these efforts in 2019 to asses if further measure required.

Consumer’s have also been given a framework intended to increase levels of consumer trust. The proposed revision of the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation now gives national authorities power to:

  • check if websites geo-block consumers or offer after-sales conditions not respecting EU rules (e.g. withdrawal rights);
  • order the immediate take-down of websites hosting scams;
  • request information from domain registrars and banks to detect the identity of the responsible trader.

The EC would also be in a position to coordinate common actions with national enforcement authorities in cases of EU-wide breaches of consumer rights.