On 10 October 2011, the European Union formally adopted a new consumer rights Directive that will impact particularly on companies active in the e-commerce sector. The Directive is aimed at protecting online shoppers and boosting consumer confidence in buying across borders in the 27 EU Member States.
Under the new Directive, it will not be possible to use words such as "free" or equivalents, in order to promote services (e.g. horoscopes or recipes), for which consumers have to pay a price. Traders will have to inform online shoppers of the total cost of the product or service before the ordered is placed, and make sure that consumers confirm explicitly that they understand that they have to pay a price when shopping online. In addition, traders will no longer be able to use “pre-ticked” boxes when offering additional, optional services (such as travel insurance or car rental when selling a plane ticket).
Information on digital content will have to be clearer. This includes information on its compatibility with hardware and software and any technical protection measures, for example limiting the right for the consumer to make copies of the content.
“Change Your Mind” Periods
Consumers will have 14 days to withdraw from a sales contract, compared to the seven days prescribed by EU law today. In addition, when a seller hasn’t clearly informed the customer about the right to withdraw, the return period will be extended to a year. The withdrawal period will start from the moment the consumer receives the goods, rather than at the time of conclusion of the contract, which is currently the case. Traders shall reimburse any payment received from the consumer within thirty days from the day on which he receives the communication of withdrawal, but he may withhold the reimbursement until he has received or collected the goods back, or the consumer has supplied evidence of having sent back the goods, whichever is the earliest.
If traders want the consumer to bear the cost of returning goods after they change their mind, they will have to clearly inform consumers of this before the sales contract is confirmed, otherwise they will have to pay for the return themselves. Traders will have to give at least an estimate of the maximum costs of returning bulky goods before the purchase is made.
In general, the trader will bear the risk for any damage to goods during transportation, until the consumer takes possession of the goods.
When a means of payment is offered, traders will not be able to charge consumers more for using that means than what it actually costs the trader to provide it. Traders who operate telephone hotlines allowing the consumer to contact them in relation to the contract will not be able charge more than the basic rate for such calls.
After the publication of the new EU Consumer Rights Directive in the European Union’s Official Journal, governments will have two years to implement the rules at national level.
"Laure Carapezzi, trainee lawyer in McDermott Will & Emery based in the Rome office, also contributed to this newsletter."