Shopping online to be made easier under EU measures


INTERNET SHOPPING is to become easier and safer for consumers under new measures to be announced by the EU Commission next week.

The proposals, seen by The Irish Times, include strengthened protection against late delivery and non-delivery of goods, more time for shoppers to change their mind post-purchase and a black list of unfair contract terms.

EU consumer affairs commissioner Meglena Kuneva, speaking on a visit to Dublin yesterday, said she hoped her proposals would help boost cross-border internet trade, and drive competition in high-price economies such as Ireland.

One in three Europeans now uses the internet to buy goods within their own country, but only 7 per cent make internet purchases from abroad. In Ireland, the figure is higher, at 16 per cent, and on average we spend €860 a year on cross-border internet purchases.

Under the proposed consumer rights directive, a standard set of consumer rights would be applied across the EU to internet purchases, to replace the existing patchwork of measures in different states. "The aim is to boost consumer confidence and, at the same time, cut red tape which is holding back business within national borders," Ms Kuneva said.

Before signing a contract, consumers will be entitled to standardised information about prices and delivery charges. The cooling off period in which consumers can change their minds and return goods is to be extended from seven to 14 days. Sellers will be required to deliver items within 30 days and to give refunds if they fail to meet this deadline. When goods are not delivered or are delivered late, customers will be entitled to a refund as soon as possible and no later than seven days after delivery.

The risk of loss or damage to goods will pass to the consumer only when the goods are handed over.

It is also proposed that a single set of remedies will apply in cases where a consumer buys a faulty product. The purchaser will be entitled in the first place to repair or replacement, followed by a reduction in price or reimbursement of money.

A new black list is to be drawn up of unfair contract terms to be prohibited across the EU in all cases, as well as a grey list of contract terms deemed to be unfair unless the trader proves the contrary.

At present, Irish law provides only for a non-binding, indicative list of unfair contract terms.

The directive will also cover doorstep selling by extending the protection to contracts concluded during solicited visits of traders at a consumer's home. These are currently exempted in Ireland.

A consumer's right to information and withdrawal will apply to all such contracts - currently, contracts below €51 are exempted. Rules on online auctions and pressure selling are also being tightened up.