EU wants to ban e-commerce geoblocking and costly deliveries

25 May 2016

The EU has announced its latest initiative as part of its Digital Single Mark strategy, which aims to stop e-commerce companies from charging customers from other EU countries higher delivery costs than those in its own nation.

We’ve all been in the situation – particularly in Ireland – where we spot something we really want to order from whatever e-commerce platform out there, only to find that the delivery fee is prohibitively expensive when compared with what you’d pay in the site’s own country.

In fact, whole companies have sprung up over the past number of years that only exist in order to help countries like Ireland attain goods that aren’t delivered to Ireland.

‘Delivery prices are too high’

Now, as part of the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy, it is looking to allow consumers from all EU member states to take full advantage of being able to engage in borderless transactions.

“All too often, people are blocked from accessing the best offers when shopping online or decide not to buy cross-border because the delivery prices are too high or they are worried about how to claim their rights if something goes wrong,” said Andrus Ansip, vice-president for the Digital Single Market.

“We want to solve the problems that are preventing consumers and businesses from fully enjoying the opportunities of buying and selling products and services online.”

Under the proposed legislation, consumers seeking to buy products and services in another EU country, be it online or in person, are “not discriminated against in terms of access to prices, sales or payment conditions, unless this is objectively justified for reasons such as VAT or certain public interest legal provisions”.

Giving nations ‘teeth’ to tackle e-commerce sites

As for cross-border parcel delivery, the EU said that charges of up to five-times higher than domestic prices by e-commerce companies is simply not fair for consumers or SMEs and it is asking for price transparency from overcharging companies.

Finally, the EU wants to give more powers to national authorities to better enforce consumer rights, allowing states to clamp down on sites breaking EU consumer law, quite strongly, in some cases.

While it isn’t clear what the legal framework will be to allow states to operate stricter rules, the EU says that they will be given powers to order the immediate take-down of websites hosting scams or request information from domain registrars and banks to detect the identity of the responsible trader.

This, Vera Jourová, the EU’s Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, described as giving “teeth to consumer protection authorities”, and will be debated within the EU during the coming weeks.

Buying item online image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic