New European rules for online shopping

New European rules for online shopping

Since June 13, 2014, the European Commission implemented new rules concerning online shopping. The same goes for classic retail. There is an important change : customers can still return their purchases within 14 days, but retailers can now make the customer pay for the shipping costs incurred.

The right to return goods within a 14 day deadline in the whole of Europe, a written cancellation statement, shipping costs for returned purchases paid for by the customer and validity of these laws applied to purchases of digital content, like music, videos or apps : These are the most important changes that apply to all European consumers doing online shopping. The bar of Coblenz as well as the german Stiftung Warentest organisation explain what these changes imply :

Will I have to justify purchase cancellations ?
No. Neither now, nor did you have to in the past.

How much cancellation time to I have ?
14 days from the moment you receive your goods. This deadline is now valid in member countries of the EU. Before that, several countries had a reduced deadline of only 7 days to return goods. « The deadline is not yet active when a postman leaves a calling card or deposits your parcel at one of the neighbours », explains Carsten Föhlisch, online retail lawyer.

What procedure to follow when cancelling an order ?
Verbally or by written consent, either by letter, fax or email. What is important is that now the customer must notify the retailer of his will to cancel. Simply sending back a parcel containing the returned goods is not enough anymore. You could formulate such a cancellation like this :  « I hereby wish to cancel my order of (date), containing the following product (product designation). » You then add the document to the parcel that is meant to be returned. The legislator also prepared a form template to be used for cancellations. Retailers should point buyers to the existence of the form before a purchase is finalized.

For the cancellation to take effect even if the returned parcel was to be lost during transit, the customer should always send his/her cancellation notification by email et request a delivery notification from the retailer for the returned products, states Rolf Becker, lawyer specialized in mail-order.

Does that mean I should carry the shipping costs if I cancel an online order ?
It's quite possible, since now retailers are free to make buyers pay for returning their purchases. Until now, this was only the case for goods sold for under 40€ or for products bought on invoice. That being said, this new rule is only a recommendation. Some retailers may decide to carry on paying for shipping returns.

Some of the big names like Amazon, Zalando and Otto have already announced that they will not change their existing policy on returns and shipping costs. On the other hand, as suggested by a recent study, many small retailers will probably not want to carry the burden of the shipping costs themselves anymore.

Who decides of the shipping method to be used for returns ?
If you have to pay for the shipping costs for returning your purchase, then you are free to choose the carrier and method by which your parcel shall be returned. You can choose the cheapest service provider.

Do I also have to reimburse the initial shipping costs, if I decide to return my purchase ?
No. For shipping costs there has been no change. If, at the moment of cancelling the order, the retailer has already debited the payment, he is required to reimburse you the full amount. If though, he has not yet debited the amount owed, you simply are not required to make any payment. Please note that the following rule has been implemented though : The retailer only has to carry the costs of the cheapest option displayed in his check-out system. If you have chosen another method during your purchase, for example express delivery, you will have to carry the difference in price between those options.

Can't I just simply refuse to accept a delivery ?
No, since the new regulation this does not anymore count as a cancellation. « If you still insist on giving the parcel back to the driver you can write your cancellation on the box, then immediate notify the retailer of your decision by phone, email, letter, or by using the cancellation form », explains lawyer Carsten Föhlisch.

What should I pay attention to during my online purchases ?
If you do not want to take the risk of having to pay for returning your products, you should first check the general terms and conditions on the retailer's website. If nothing is mentioned there, then by law the customer will have to carry the shipping costs.

Can I cancel and return any type of purchase ?
Non, there are several exceptions, like for example in the case of buying fresh fruits and vegetables, or ordering cut flowers. The same goes for CD's, DVD's, video games and software where the seal has been removed from the packaging.

What about e-books and songs bought online ?
In theory, those can also be returned. The new law makes it possible to cancel the purchase of digital goods. But retailers are free to decide not to apply this regulation. In that case, they are obliged to notify the customer before the sale is finalized. Once the download link has been provided, the customer will loose any right of cancellation. The customer will be asked to accept this condition with every purchase.