EU Digital Compliance and Consumer Rights
Hundreds of websites are regularly checked (“sweeps”) across the EU on whether they comply with EU consumer law: airlines (2007), mobile content (2008), electronic goods (2009), online tickets (2010), consumer credit (2011), digital contents (2012), travel services (2013), guarantees on electronic goods (2014), consumer rights directive (2015), comparison tools in the travel sector (2016), telecommunication- and other digital services (2017), prices and discounts in online shopping (2018) and delivery conditions and withdrawal rights (2019). After the sweep, each website found with an issue has to make corrections. This brings up the level of compliance to higher level. Proceedings can be long, but in general, within one year the level of compliance becomes satisfactory (graph below).
A “sweep” is a set of checks carried out on websites simultaneously to identify breaches of EU consumer law in a particular sector.
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)
Examples of sweeps
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%).
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: 2017 – Telecommunication and other digital services sweep
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.
To date, through national consumer law enforcement authorities, several EU-wide issues were resolved:
- Booking.com committed to make changes in the way it presents offers, discounts and prices to consumers.
- Airbnb improved and fully clarified the way it presents accommodation offers to consumers, for example, to provide adequate and complete price information (including all mandatory charges and fees).
- Unfair terms in social media contracts: Facebook, Twitter and Google+ updated their terms of services and implemented a dedicated procedure for consumer authorities to signal problematic content.
- Unclear conditions to rent cars: The five leading car rental companies — Avis, Europcar, Enterprise, Hertz and Sixt — considerably improved the transparency of their offers and handling of damages.
- Apple iTunes and Google Play developed information on the existence and price of items that can be purchased as part of games.