EU Steps In to Regulate Online Shopping Protections for European Consumers

Where do Irish consumers shop online?  

In 2021, the purchase power of Irish consumers was the second-highest in the EU (Eurostat), when an overwhelming majority shopped online during successive lockdowns, most in the EU, some from sellers outside the EU and the rest on Irish websites from Irish online businesses. According to the .IE Report 2022, Irish consumers have “swung back from Irish SMEs to international retailers” during the second year of the pandemic, when 70% of Irish online consumers primarily shopped online abroad (KPMG retail survey), while Ireland’s biggest shopping event, Black Friday/Cyber Monday 2021, generated most online sales on foreign websites, according to Revolut. Social and mobile commerce is also on the rise in Ireland, with 63% of Irish consumers buying directly from brands‘ social media channels, some based abroad (Sprout Social, UK & Ireland).   

In terms of consumer behaviour, while most Irish shoppers bought goods and services from EU online retailers and marketplaces, the most popular non-EU locations were the UK, China and the US (PayPal Retail Trends 2021). Even though cross-border shopping from/in the UK decreased by half in 2021, the top 5 e-tailers in Ireland in 2021 were Amazon, Tesco, Argos, Curry’s, Littlewoods and ASOS (ecommerceDB Ireland 2021), all headquartered in the UK. Other international traders both based in the EU and outside the EU sell to Ireland via .ie websites, which account for 9% and are mostly based in the UK, US and Germany (.IE Domain Profile Report 2021). You can read the European Consumer Centre Ireland’s analysis of .ie international websites here.  

Recent research by Digital Business Ireland reveals that in 2022, 38% of Irish consumers expect to increase their online spending, particularly in the context of the unprecedented rise in the use of smartphones, wearables, voice assistants and smart home appliances with shopping capabilities. Irish people intend to spend 40% more than before online, particularly on apparel, electronics and furnishings, and on travel products, such as airline tickets, holidays, accommodation and experiences (Deloitte Consumer Tracker 2021).

Online shopping has become indispensable to many, not only during the pandemic lockdowns, but as a way to save time and money as deliveries tend to be more convenient for people now working from home, and the online prices are typically lower than in brick-and-mortar shops. Pricing represents a big decision-making factor in online purchases, some of which are made on marketplaces where prices are comparatively lower than from independent e-tailers. 

Thus, it is safe to assume that cross-border shopping online in Ireland will continue strongly in 2022 and beyond.  


What do Irish consumers need to look out for when shopping online?

While pricing and convenience are the positives in online shopping, consumers must be aware that cross-border online shopping in/from the EU businesses (including from Irish businesses) is generally safe, as consumer rights are strong within the Single Market. Nevertheless, it may also become problematic in some cases. It is why the New Deal for Consumers, the EU’s consumer policy from 2020 – 2025, will aim to equip online shoppers with tools to exercise their rights, empower consumer protection national authorities to penalise violations of EU consumer law, both nationally and cross-border, as well as support national enforcement authorities to tackle illegal online commercial practices and identify unsafe products. 

Here are a few things Irish consumers are advised to look out for in 2022.  

One of the main documented issues is buying counterfeit products and/or buying from rogue traders, some of whom operate straightforward scams, whereby products never arrive. In 2020 alone, 3% of goods entering Ireland were found to be counterfeit (European Union Intellectual Property Office report 2021), while overall, in the EU, the provenance of fake goods are non-EU countries: China, Hong Kong, Turkey, Singapore and Russia. The European Consumer Centre Ireland published its advice on how to avoid falling into a trap here. 

Product safety is also a major concern: over half of the websites checked by the European Commission and national consumer protection authorities in its latest 2022 sweep violate consumer protection rules. Irish consumers can learn how to check if products are safe here. Another recent review found that “almost two-thirds of the online shops, marketplaces, booking websites, search engines and comparison service sites raised doubts about the reliability of the reviews”. The European Consumer Centre Ireland published its advice on how to avoid fake reviews here. 

Other problems relate delayed deliveries, non-deliveries and difficulties in obtaining refunds for cancelled orders. In 2021 alone, ECC Ireland received hundreds of such complaints relating to online orders of clothing and footwear, home and garden goods, food and alcohol, personal care products and accessories, which are the most popular products in online shopping from Ireland. Irish consumers can learn how to make a complaint related to online shopping here. 

Other issues the European Consumer Centre Ireland dealt with in 2021 involved online travel products and holiday accommodation purchased online, directly or through third-party booking platforms. Many resulted in cancellations and problems with obtaining refunds or voucher extensions. ECC Ireland details how to claim travel rights here on the website. 


How the EU is revamping online shopping consumer protections 

In the aftermath of the COVID_19 travel crisis and in light of the global reliance on online shopping over the last 2 years, the European Commission worked on updating the following consumer protection rules: 

  • E-commerce VAT rules applicable to all online sellers, marketplaces and shipping operators selling into the EU which consumers can consult here. 
  • Cross-border parcel delivery service prices (Regulation EU 2018/644), so that consumers can easily compare options, which consumers can consult here. 
  • Remedies or refunds for defective digital content and services within the first 2 years after purchase or make a refund (Directives EU 2019/770 and /771). 
  • Liability rules to reduce obstacles encountered by consumers in receiving compensation for damage (Product Liability Directive 85/374/EEC). 
  • Rules on fake customer reviews and hidden paid-for advertising (Enforcement and Modernisation Directive (EU) 2019/2161). 
  • Extending product safety standards and trading obligations also non-EU sellers operating in the EU (Regulation on Market Surveillance and Compliance of Products (EU) 2019/1020). Most importantly, it provides that a product may be placed on the EU market only if the economic operator has an established base in the EU, abides by EU product safety rules and cooperates with market surveillance authorities on products recalls and removals. 

Overall, the EU has tackled the realities of the internet shopping era by revising the foundational EU consumer law instruments with the view to improve transparency and outcomes for online consumers through these main instruments:   

  • The Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation (EU) 2017/2394 (effective from 2020) focuses on policing cross-border consumer protection law infringements via national consumer protection authorities, including through inspections, investigations and enforcement orders
  • The collective Enforcement and Modernisation Omnibus Directive 2019/2161) will make substantive amendments to four existing pieces of consumer protection legislation: 
  • The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (2005/29/EC), in respect of obligations of online platforms and marketplaces, influencer marketing, consumer reviews, dark patterns, as well as greenwashing and planned obsolescence. 
  • The Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU), which will further clarify matters where consumers provide personal data on online networks and marketplaces. 
  • The Unfair Contract Terms Directive (93/13/EEC) clarifying the consumers’ right of withdrawal from purchase contracts deemed detrimental to consumers and regulating the transparent presentation of product information to consumers. 
  • The Price Indications Directive (1998/6/EU), which sets rules on making product pricing transparent and easily accessible. 

One of the most significant updates overall across new and updated EU legislation is stricter penalties for breaches of consumer law by traders, quantified as a minimum percentage (4%) of annual turnovers. Other priorities of the EU in 2022 include:  

  • Revising the adequacy of the Package Travel Directive and prescribe new rules governing phenomena such as global pandemics that lead to mass cancellations.  
  • Reviewing the Sale of Goods Directive (EU) 2019/771 in order to make the right to repair more prominent and clearly define the remedies available to the consumers in the event of a lack of conformity. 
  • Working closely with the consumer protection national authorities and their EU networks, which will all receive enhanced mandates to enforce consumer protection laws within Member States as well as cross-border. 


What is the role of the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland  

The European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland is a member of the European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net), which offers consumers across the European Union advice on their consumer rights and legal protections when shopping and travelling in another European Union Member State or European Economic Area country. 

The primary mandate of the member offices of the ECC-Net is to ensure that consumers are aware of their rights and are able to exercise them. Another role is to represent EU consumers’ interests in the creation of consumer protection legislation at EU level. In terms of services to consumers, they provide practical assistance with out-of-court dispute resolution processes such  Online Dispute Resolution, Alternative Dispute Resolution, and advice on formal legal action through the European Small Claims Procedure.  

ECC Ireland deals exclusively with cross-border consumer-to-business complaints against a registered business based in EU, EEA and the UK from private Irish consumers who have not received any satisfactory resolution from the business itself. Consumers are advised to submit their complaints here: