The European Consumer Centre Ireland receives many queries in relation to shopping woes and unclear consumer rights when buying on what are believed to be the Ireland-based .ie websites. To the surprise of many, not all .ie websites are based in or shipping from Ireland – read our investigation here: Are all .ie websites Irish?
SHOPPING ON NON-IRISH .IE WEBSITES
What is the problem with these .ie websites that are not based in Ireland and are they legitimate?
According to the national .ie domain registration requirements in Ireland, international non-Ireland based websites are authorised by accredited registrars and the IE oversight company, weare.ie, based on legislation enforced by the national regulator in Ireland, Commission for Communications Regulation.
That a website selling to the Irish market is not based in Ireland or does not belong to an Irish company does not make it fraudulent (many other things do but they are connected to deliberate scams and cybersecurity issues – read all about it here).
Is it misleading to have a country domain if you are not based in that particular country?
Technically and legally, no. It is simply in the nature of global business, especially e-commerce, to continually expand selling capabilities by using technology that defies geographical borders and trade facilities (such as the EU Single Market) that make international trade seamless and economical for both retailers and consumers.
Legitimate international businesses can include: direct sellers/retailers (who may or may not hold all their goods in stock at their Irish base or ship from elsewhere), import/export businesses such as distributors, international corporations/concerns (which use several companies to organise any single order), dropshipping outfits (marketing sites which only list and advertise services and products online but the orders ship directly from suppliers/manufacturers/distributors).
It is misleading however to deliberately hide the company information and all other identifying details, as well as sale contract and shipping terms that might affect a consumer’s buying decision.
So is this normal practice?
It is. Just as international businesses can own an .ie domain, so can Irish businesses apply for a country domain anywhere in the world they market and sell their goods (traditionally the UK and the US).
Consumers will also find that large international corporations will have a great number of country domains registered, corresponding to all the markets where they have operations or do business in (without having a registered base there). Sometimes, they will have the domains registered separately (for example, .ie, .de, .uk, etc.); other times, they will have a single website where you can change the country location, which in fact leads to another embedded microsite with different terms and conditions for that particular location/country/market: for example .com/ie for the Irish market.
Do Irish companies all have .ie domains?
Not at all. For example, according to the same .IE Domain Profile Report, 8% of all Ireland-hosted domains are .uk websites, meaning that these are most likely exporting Irish businesses that sell in the UK.
Many Irish companies, especially exporting companies will have .com or other domains, including .eu. Other Irish companies do not wish to have an .ie domains as they do not want to be perceived as selling only to Ireland, especially companies that mostly sell for export.
What is the most reliable way to find out where I am shopping from?
An .ie domain name doesn’t mean that the business you’re buying from is based in the Republic of Ireland. To find out where the business behind the site is based/registered in, check the business’s registered/postal address in:
- The About (Us) section
- The Contact (Us) section
- The Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) section
The T&Cs section is the most important as the contract of sale you enter will be with the business listed in this section. Even if the business has other branches or subsidiaries both in Ireland and elsewhere, the contract of sale is always named in the Terms and Conditions.
If you are on an international website ending in .com, and you are shopping from Ireland, you will be redirected, based on your IP address, to another part of the site, most likely in the format .com/ie — be sure to check the terms and conditions for the Irish part of the website if shopping from Ireland as the T&Cs will be different for each market.
How do I know where my orders are shipping from?
In terms of establishing where the order is actually shipping from, this is sometimes listed in the Shipping and/or Delivery sections. If not, delivery (lead) times are also a giveaway. Depending on the shipping method – regular post (slow) versus courier services (fast) – if a business has a lead time of over 2 weeks it is unlikely that the business is based in Ireland or the nearest countries in Europe. If delivery times are 1-2 months, the order will be most likely shipped from outside the EU.
While under EU consumer law, businesses must provide customers with delivery information, they are under no obligation legally to state where they are shipping from. Supply and shipping chains are very sophisticated nowadays and many companies have several, if not many, suppliers and sometimes shipping is handled by the manufacturer or a third party (their locations may be different than the retailer’s).
Does it make a difference if I buy from an .ie website based in Ireland and one based elsewhere?
There are two scenarios here.
- If the .ie owner is based in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland or any country in the EU/EEA, the businesses must automatically comply with all the EU standard consumer protections.
- If the .ie owner is based in or trading from the UK or anywhere outside the EU, even though EU and Irish consumer law apply in principle, in reality however, consumer rights or the way in which they are extended to international customers may be different and their application not guaranteed.
Note that UK consumer law is almost identical to EU consumer law, but the protections therein may not be automatically extended to consumers outside the UK, even though the UK-EU trade agreement implies that this cooperation will be maintained until further notice.
So what are my consumer rights if I decide to buy or inadvertently buy from outside the EU (with goods shipped from outside the EU) on an .ie domain?
All companies, both in EU and outside of the EU/EEA, must adhere to the basic framework of consumer rights if they sell in(to)/within the EU/EEA. You will find all these here. Online shopping within the EU also gives you an automatic right to cancel any order within 14 days from the purchase transaction without giving a reason. You can cancel and return an order before or upon delivery. Afterwards, if the product is not suitable or defective in any way, you are entitled to a full refund (more on this here).
Even non-EU companies marketing and selling their products into the EU are bound by these requirements. The essential difference is that the enforcement of consumer rights may be problematic, and your consumers rights are not guaranteed; nor are the redress options normally available to consumer within the EU a given. If you do not see the standard EU consumer rights above in the Terms & Conditions on the website you are shopping on, you are making a purchase at your own risk.
What about extra customs and other duties incurred at destination, before/upon delivery? Do all .ie domain companies need to inform me of additional customs and duties?
A trustworthy business and a transparent website would. You can certainly inquire before or after submitting an order. EU websites are required to inform customers of any known additional costs before a purchase is made. If additional charges are applied to a purchase upon delivery, you can decline these charges and you can refuse delivery. You can then advise the seller that you are returning the goods because you were not informed of the charges at the time of purchase, or the goods will be sent back by the delivery agent because you do not pay these charges.
Note, however that, if the retailers did now know exactly what charges and taxes the order will incur at destination, it does not constitute a breach of your consumer contract rights.
Before ordering from outside the EU, find out what VAT and import charges you may have to pay. Shopping from non-EU businesses operating and shipping from outside the EU/EAA will always result in additional charges, which are legitimate charges applied by Irish customs and revenue authorities at destination, usually upon delivery. Full information about the additional charges can be found at revenue.ie.
ONLINE SHOPPING SAFETY TIPS
Finally, here are some quick and sensible tips on shopping online on .ie domains and any others. Don’t press on the buy button or shop elsewhere, if:
- There is no identifying information whatsoever about the retailer behind the website.
- The Terms & Conditions seem to be a standard template text with no actual business details.
- You search online for the address listed on the website and it does not seem to exist on any maps or it points to something else altogether.
- There is no information on delivery terms (lead times, shipping method, etc.).
- They don’t respond or won’t confirm where goods are shipped from.
- There are no returns or redress options policies.
HELP, ADVICE, REDRESS
If you have made an order on an .ie domain and you are not sure where you bought from and when are you getting it, or if you have a consumer dispute with the retailer, you can ask for more information and assistance from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission or ourselves, respectively, the European Consumer Centre Ireland, based on the guidance below:
- If you are resident in Ireland and you have a consumer dispute with a trader that is also based in Ireland ( i.e. you believe that you have shopped on an .ie domain owned by the Irish company of an overseas trader), please contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission for further information and assistance here: ccpc.ie.
- If you are resident in Ireland and you have a complaint about a trader based in another European Union country, Norway, Iceland or the United Kingdom (you believe you shopped on an .ie domain owned by a company not based in the Republic of Ireland but based within the EU/EEA), and you have tried to resolve the matter directly with the trader to no avail, please contact us, the European Consumer Centre Ireland for assistance here.
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