Shoppers are set to have increased rights as part of sweeping reforms of consumer protection laws across the EU.
Retailers should ensure that they keep up-to-date with the developments and review their practices to ensure compliance.
The introduction of the Consumer Rights Directive will significantly strengthen consumer rights particularly in the area of e-commerce. The Directive will apply to all goods bought at a distance, whether online, or via post or phone, after 13 June 2014.
The key changes
- An extension to the “cooling off period” when a consumer can change their mind on a purchase for any reason from 7 days to 14 days. The period will run from the time that the goods are received and will be extended by 12 months if the consumer is not informed of their right to cancel.
- Retailers must deliver goods within 30 days of the contract being completed unless the parties agree otherwise and retailers will bear the risk of any loss and damage to the goods before they are delivered.
- Retailers must refund consumers within 14 days of cancellation and bear the cost of the goods being returned unless agreed otherwise.
- Consumers will be entitled to reimbursement of any “drip down” payments they are required to actively opt-out of. For example, pre-selected boxes adding on product care items where a buyer has bought other items will be banned.
Excessive surcharges for payments made via credit or debit cards have also been banned since 6 April 2013 in the UK.
Further legislation changes
The European Commission has also recently published a review into the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. The Directive introduced a general ban on unfair trading practices and specific prohibitions against aggressive selling and misleading marketing.
The Commission found that there has been inconsistent enforcement of the rules across the EU which has limited cross-border trading. The Commission aims to improve guidance and training for enforcement bodies to address this issue which should help create a level playing field throughout the EU.
As a further development, in March 2013, the European Parliament adopted the Online Dispute Resolution Regulation which will allow consumers and traders to settle disputes out of court through an interactive website. This new regime will apply to any online purchase made either domestically or across EU borders. This should allow disputes to be settled quickly and at a low cost as well as reducing the risk of intervention from regulators.
The reforms should give consumers, particularly online shoppers, greater confidence when shopping online and this will create opportunities for retailers.
Greater harmonisation of consumer protection laws across the EU and the ability to resolve cross border disputes without having to involve the courts should also allow retailers to expand their customer base and compete more effectively across the EU.