In 2022, the Irish were the third biggest online shoppers in Europe only behind internet buyers from the Netherlands and Denmark, according to the latest Eurostat figures. 89% of Ireland’s online shoppers used the internet to buy goods or services (clothes, shoes, accessories in the main), with 61% of Irish online buyers purchasing goods from EU sellers and 39% from sellers from the rest of the world (non-EU), according to CSO Ireland. Some purchases are made via the 29,895 .ie domains registered internationally in 2022 (most based in Germany/EU and the UK and the US/non-EU, respectively), as seen in the latest .IE report.
For World Consumer Day 2023 on the 15th of March, along with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Consumers, and our parent organisation, the European Consumer Centres Network, we focus on pitfalls of online shopping, which is sometimes riddled with unethical practices that lead consumers to inadvertent overconsumption, overindebtedness and losing out on fair pricing and fair terms.
From investigations into known problems by the European Commission and the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network of enforcement authorities in the Member States, we have learned that most consumer rights breaches in the digital sphere have to do with unfair commercial practices, unfair pricing and unfair contract terms. Most recently, among the most prominent issues identified were dark patterns, untruthful discounts for Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, unfair commercial practices by car rental intermediaries, fake online consumer reviews, unfair terms for subscription payments and deceptive greenwashing claims, among others.
In this context, we focus on some of the most common pitfalls of online shopping in 2023:
Dark Patterns: These design elements or e-commerce features, which are deliberately placed on shopping websites, are designed to entice or manipulate consumers into making a purchase or signing up for a service or subscription.
For example, these can be pop-ups that require users to provide their e-mail address before they can access a website or a “limited-time offer” that creates a sense of urgency, on-page messaging that makes it difficult to exit a page or pressure to sign up for a subscription service that is later difficult or nearly impossible to cancel.
Read more about dark patterns in this 2022 European Commission study here.
Price Personalisation: This is the practice of displaying different prices to different consumers based on their browsing history, location and other personal data. This can lead to unfair pricing practices and discrimination in terms of accessing fair prices and ultimately results in some shoppers paying higher prices than others for the same product or service.
Consumer Manipulation: Some online retailers use psychological tactics to manipulate consumers into making a purchase. These can include false scarcity, where a product is advertised as limited in quantity and upselling, where a shopper is encouraged to buy a more expensive product or opt for add-ons to a base product or package.
Restrictive Sale Terms: These can include anything from non-negotiable terms and conditions, such as a minimum purchase amount, requiring buyers to sign up for a subscription to get a discount, absence of a returns policy, which means that customers cannot return an item for a refund or exchange.
This can lead to consumer-trader disputes of the kind the European Consumer Centre Ireland deals with on a daily basis – learn more about redress options here.
BNPL: ‘Buy now – pay later’ is a type of purchase financing option plan that allows customers to buy products online and pay for them over a certain (short) period of time, in instalments. While BNPL is a convenient payment option that allows consumers to pay for things they can otherwise be unable to afford, some potential pitfalls associated to BNPL are hidden fees, as well as overspending and debt.
Learn more about BNPL here.
Don’t lose sight of your European consumer rights when shopping online. For a rundown of consumer rights in the European Union, head over to this user-friendly infographic by the European Commission here.
To get advice and assistance with consumer questions and disputes pertaining to cross-border online shopping within the European Union,
please contact ECC Ireland here.
Learn more about online shopping consumer rights on eccireland.ie here.