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Online learning resources for SMEs on how to implement consumer protection rules in their business

Consumer Law Ready is a specialist training programme for SMEs, that will help you understand and comply with the latest EU consumer laws. The training enables you to gain knowledge of the important aspects of current consumer law, which will help improve customer service and increase consumer trust in your business.

In this course, you will learn about:


Pre-contractual information requirements

What must you tell consumers about a product or service you offer BEFORE they buy it?

The EU Consumer Rights Directive requires that you provide eight key pieces of information to the consumer before they complete any sale or service contract with you. Specific information must be presented at the point of sale, and further information must be presented to conclude the contract at a distance or outside your business premises. Click here to learn what these eight key pieces of information are and how you must present them. Learn what to do if you do cross-border trader and address citizens from another EU country:

How to implement pre-contractual information requirements (1)

How to implement pre-contractual requirement (2)

FAQ: Pre-contractual information requirements

I forgot to give pre-contractual information to a potential client in my shop. What can I do?

Traders are legally obliged to disclose pre-contractual information to potential customers. There are 8 key information items you have to clearly present to consumers before they conclude any sale or service contract with you in your shop. However, if the information is already apparent from the context, the trader needs not to worry about these 8 items.

There are different consequences if you do not provide the pre-contractual information requirements. First of all, you run the risk of disappointing your customers and risk reputational damage. Secondly, the law itself provides some important immediate consequences if certain pre-contractual information requirements were not respected. Most importantly you run the risk of having to pay a pecuniary fine under national law for your breach to the Consumer Rights Directive.

There are different consequences if you do not provide the pre-contractual information requirements. First of all, you run the risk of disappointing your customers and risk reputational damage. Secondly, the law itself provides some important immediate consequences if certain pre-contractual information requirements were not respected. Most importantly you run the risk of having to pay a pecuniary fine under national law for your breach to the Consumer Rights Directive.

Depending on how many items of my product (eg. a book) my customer orders, the postal costs change and it is difficult to calculate their final price in advance. What can I do?

The customer needs to have accurate precontractual information. The total price of the goods or services you offer should be clear. This means that the price needs to be fully complete, i.e. it must include all of the applicable taxes, additional freight, delivery and postal charges. If the price cannot be calculated in advance, what you need to disclose to the consumer is the manner in which the price is to be calculated.

I have goods on offer on my website. When I include all the compulsory legal information it begins to look like a list and looks terrible. What can i do?

This situation concerns the conclusion of a so-called “distance contract” for which all precontractual information requirement has been fully harmonised in the EU. You will always have to respect the 8 key information requirements but will have to provide additional ones. A good way to comply with the rules is to use a set of icons to illustrate the relevant information categories. A model has been provided by the European Commission here: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/consumer-marketing/files/model_digital_products_info_complete_en.pdf

 I want to sell my products in all EU countries. Do I have to translate my website in all EU languages?

Each Member State may choose to define the language in which the information has to be disclosed to the consumer. In most cases, it is the official language(s) of the Member State.
If you provide the information in another language than the required one, it is considered that the information was not provided at all. In order to check what language each Member State has chosen, please have a look at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/consumer-marketing/files/overview_regulatory_choices.pdf

Therefore, if the trader’s website is directed at the consumers in a Member State that has imposed language requirements under Article 6(7) of the Directive, the trader should provide the consumer with contractual information in the language required by that Member State.

I don’t want to sell my products in all EU countries. Can I refuse to sell to consumers abroad but within the EU?

For the moment under the current laws, there is no obligation to sell for online products and services. This is, however, going to change with the introduction of the Geoblocking Regulation which will impose an obligation to sell but not an obligation to deliver the goods or services. Under EU law, if you direct your business activities to consumers in EU countries different from your own one, it is usually the law of the country in which the consumer lives that applies to your contract with the foreign consumer. If you have both chosen a different law, that choice cannot deprive your foreign customer of the consumer protection granted by the mandatory provisions of his country of residence.If, as a trader, you want to avoid being considered as a trader directing his activities to another country, so that you don’t have to apply consumer protection laws that are not the ones from your country, you need to act carefully. For instance, in order not to give the impression that you are targeting the market of a neighbouring country, you can opt not to translate your website in the language of that country.


Right of Withdrawal

The right of withdrawal allows the consumer to cancel a contract within 14 days of receipt, without justification. The contract can relate to the supply of goods, services and/or digital content. Want to know everything about the right of withdrawal, and how it works for you as a trader? Click here to learn how to correctly include the right of withdrawal in your contracts and how to react when the consumer withdraws from a contract or returns a purchased item.

How to implement consumers’ right of withdrawal

FAQ: Right of withdrawal

My customer returned a parcel. How can I be sure what day/date he received the parcel and whether or not he has exceeded the 14 days for the withdrawal period?

The answer to this question would depend on the delivery agreement. The 14 days should start counting from the day the customer got physical possession of the goods. That could be derived for example from the confirmation of receipt of the consumer to the delivery service.

My customer sent me back his parcel 16 days after reception. What can I do?

The customer has the obligation to return the product within 14 days from the day he communicated his decision to exercise his right to withdraw. Therefore, the trader should check the date when the customer informed him of his willingness to return the product and start counting the 14 days from then on. If the customer sends the parcel back later than that, the trader can refuse it.

My customer ordered a book and sent it back 5 days after reception, using his right of withdrawal. The book came back with coffee drops. What can I do?

The customer has the right to inspect the product. Nevertheless, if the use of the product is more than necessary, as in this case, the seller can estimate the diminished value of the product and ask that money back from the customer.

My customer tried on the running shoes he ordered (the shoes smell!), but then used his right of withdrawal to send them back. What can I do?

Same as above, the customer has the right to test and use the products in the same manner as he would be allowed to do in a shop. Hence, he can try the shoes. However, if he used the shoes more than necessary, which may be indicated by the fact that the shoes smell, then the trader has a right to be compensated for the diminished value. This will particularly be the case where the shoes can no longer be sold as new.

My customer returned his parcel on time, using his right of withdrawal, and asks me to pay the postal costs, although I had mentioned in the pre-contractual information requirements that he would have to cover them himself. What can I do?

In a case where the customer has been informed from the start that he is the one to bear the direct cost of returning the product, the seller has no obligation to bear that cost.


Consumer Rights and Guarantees

One of the most important issues concerning the sale of goods is ‘Guarantee’ i.e. that the seller is liable for all defects in goods sold by them. If an item or service you sold is defective, stops working or is not in line with the agreed contract, what are your responsibilities to the consumer?

Under EU law, traders must repair or replace a defective product. What is the legal guarantee and how does it differ from the commercial guarantee? What happens in case of cross-border sales? What happens if repairing a product is too expensive and the trader would prefer to replace it or give the consumer its money back?

Click here to learn everything about guarantees for defective goods.

FAQ: Consumer rights and guarantees in case of defective goods F

In Ireland, products have a 6 year guarantee, whereas EU law imposes a minimum 2 years and many EU countries have adopted 2 years. If I sell my product to another country, in which the legal guarantee lasts 6 years, do I respect the 6 year, or the 2 year?

In practice, the mandatory consumer legislation of another State will only be relevant if his or her rules are more protective than those of your legal system or the law you have agreed to refer to with the consumer. This might be the case where, for example, the legal guarantee period of the consumer’s law is longer than the one under your own law.

I sent the wrong parcel to a customer: I have sent black shoes instead of the white shoes he had ordered. What should I do?

If it was indeed stated in the contract binding both the consumer and the trader that the shoes should have been white, then it is clear that the goods delivered are not in conformity with the contract. There is a high chance in this case that the customer will complain quickly and will use his right of withdrawal which he has if the good was purchased online. In this case there is a lack of conformity with the contract; the shoes do not comply with the description given by the seller. In this case the consumer will have the right to ask for the replacement of the white shoes, which are not in conformity with what was in the contract. The consumer might be still happy with the shoes and ask for a discount.

I have sent fragile items in a bad packaging and the customer received his items (for instance glasses) broken. What can I do?

There is no doubt that the consumer did not order broken glasses and therefore the delivered goods are not in conformity with the contract. The consumer has, therefore, a right to ask for redress and ask for the replacement of the goods.

I have closed my online shop a year ago, but a customer contacts me as the product he bought a year and a half ago are defective. What should I do?

As you are no longer active and probably the legal entity of your shop does not exist either anymore, you can advise your customer to contact directly the manufacturer of the good or send him to another shop selling similar goods and brands. In any case, the two-year legal guarantee period starts from the day the consumer took possession of the product.

My customer comes back with his bike to my shop. There is corrosion on the frame. He says it started 3 months after the purchase. The consumer however only complains 7 months after the purchase. What can I do?

Since the consumer only comes more than six months after the problem occurred, it will be up to him to prove that there was an issue from the beginning. If he succeeds in doing so and in convincing you, then the two years legal guarantee is applicable and the consumer will be entitled to either a replacement or a repair. You could, for instance, offer to replace only the frame and not the whole bike.


Unfair Commercial Practices and Contract Terms

EU law defines unfair commercial practices and unfair contract terms as actions that are unfair under EU law, as when the consumer is prevented from making a free, fully informed economic decision. Terms in consumer contracts must fulfil specific standards to be in line with the principle of good faith, and to avoid an imbalance to the detriment of the consumer in the rights and obligations between contractual parties.

Watch below to make sure that your advertising practice complies with the law:

 

FAQ: Unfair commercial practices

My competitor has written on his entrance door: “best products in town”. We sell the same products (cameras). What can I do?

The base for this claim that products are the “best” is for the least not very convincing. There is nothing in the rest of the advertisement to clearly substantiate this claim. This could be considered to be a subjective claim and we might assume that an average consumer will not be misled by it.
Nevertheless, caution is advised with this type of advertisement as it could be judged misleading as “best in town” could be interpreted as if an independent agency gave this rating to the seller, even if that’s not the case. In that case, it could be considered that people have been deceived. It is therefore advisable to be very careful with this type of claims.
Can I say “most cheesy pizza ever” to advertise, or do I need a scientific test to prove it?

There is little evidence to support the claim. By definition the claim entails that the pizzas are cheesier than all the pizza’s produced by competitors. This could be considered as misleading and could harm the interest of competitors in an unjustified way. More acceptable alternatives would be to posit that the pizza is “extremely” or “very” cheesy.

I have put a poster saying “20% off this week” on some products last week as I need to make space in my shop. I did not sell them. I cannot really sell them for cheaper. Can I keep this poster until they are sold?

No, you cannot. This would be considered an unfair commercial practice as it is one of the explicitly blacklisted practices. It would be considered that you are falsely stating that a product will only be available on particular terms for a very limited time. It is considered that you are provoking an immediate decision and depriving consumers of sufficient opportunity or time to make an informed choice.

I have sold a tablet to a customer. He used it for a year. After a year, he realises that the tablet has less memory than was mentioned to him. What can I do?

You can take back the product and send it to the manufacturer, with whom you have a deal. In this case, the memory of a tablet was clearly an important element in the purchase decision of the consumer and he was misled if the tablet was sold with less memory than promised to him.
It should be however clear whether it is really the case that the consumer did not know about the memory capacity and that he does not try to get a new tablet for free. You could, for instance, argue that the memory capacity is very clearly stated on the box of the tablet.

 Last week I advertised a camera in the local newspaper. It sold out after two days. Customers keep coming, asking to buy it. Can I offer them cameras that are similar but from another brand?

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors. What absolutely needs to be avoided is what is called “bait advertising”. This would be considered an unfair commercial practice and is one of the explicitly blacklisted practices in the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.

You should know that you cannot not offer these products at all or only an inadequate number thereof. If your stock is disproportionately low with regards to the advertisement campaign there is a high chance that the practice would be considered as unfair.


Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)

This ‘out-of-court dispute resolution’ is a procedure that allows consumers and traders to solve disputes following in-shop and on-line purchases, from the same country on in a different country, through mediation, and arbitration. The Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Platform was created by the European Commission to manage the upsurge in such disputes and provide support to traders and consumers.

Learn more about Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) here:

FAQ: ADR/ODR

How do I find information about Alternative Dispute Resolution in my country?

The easiest way is to go to the ODR platform ec.europa.eu/odr, choose ‘Dispute resolution bodies’ section for your country.

If there are several ADRs in my country, how should I choose the one I will work with?

Usually, the ADRs are specialised to cover certain sectors, products or services. It is best to choose the one (or the ones) that covers your sector. If there are several options, you could also choose depending on other characteristics – how much do you have to pay for the ADR to look at your case, are they close to where you are established and other conditions that may be important to you.

I disagree with the decision the ADR in my country took. What can I do?

First of all, you have to check what the ADR decision says about it. They would have to inform you what your next steps can be. In some cases, you will be obliged to follow the ADR decision unless you challenge it in court. In other cases, the decision of the ADR could be just a recommendation, and you can choose whether to follow it, or not.

I believe the ADR in my country is more consumer-friendly than trader-friendly. What can I do?

One of the main requirements for the ADR bodies is to be neutral and independent. If you believe that an ADR does not comply with this requirement, you could send this information to a body that supervises the ADR.

I am an online trader. The customer I have a dispute with speaks a different language that I do not understand. Is there a solution? If you are an online trader, you can encourage the consumer to use the EU ODR platform ec.europ.eu/odr, which provides automatic translations for all the documents, so can be very helpful in this respect.

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