The EU will make online shopping easier by ending geoblocking

22 Nov 2017

Online shopping is set to become much less restricted. Image: Paisit Teeraphatsakool/Shutterstock

EU organisations have decided to end unjustified geoblocking as part of the Digital Single Market strategy.

The European Commission (EC), Council and Parliament have all agreed to end geoblocking, meaning retailers within the EU must make electrical goods, concert tickets or car rentals available to consumers in all 28 member states, regardless of where the potential buyer is living in the EU.

The new rules look set to boost e-commerce within the EU, as the vice-president of the EC, Andrus Ansip, explained: “Today we put an end to unjustified discrimination when shopping online. This is excellent news for consumers. With the new rules, Europeans will be able to choose from which website they wish to buy, without being blocked or rerouted. This will be a reality by Christmas next year.”

Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska is in charge of internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, and she explained that the decision was a major boost for the Digital Single Market plans. “We are upgrading the EU Single Market to the digital world by giving consumers the same possibility to access the widest range of offers, regardless of whether they physically enter a shop in another country or whether they shop online.”

She added that the next steps would involved reducing cross-border parcel delivery prices, which she said still discourage people from buying and selling across the EU.

The three new rules

There are three applications of this end to geoblocking that the EU highlighted with these examples:

  • The sale of goods without physical delivery: A Belgian customer wishes to buy a refrigerator and finds the best deal on a German website. The customer will be entitled to order the product and collect it at the trader’s premises or organise delivery themselves to their home.
  • The sale of an electronically supplied service: A Bulgarian consumer wishes to buy hosting services for their website from a Spanish company. They will now have access to the service, can register and buy this service without having to pay additional fees compared to a Spanish consumer.
  • The sale of services provided in a specific physical location: An Italian family can buy a trip directly to an amusement park in France without being redirected to an Italian website.

A step towards the EU Digital Single Market

Mariya Gabriel of the EC is tasked with the digital economy and society, and she described the end of geoblocking as “a great step forward for consumers and the building of a real Digital Single Market working for all”.

This means consumers will no longer face barriers such as being asked to pay with a credit or debit card issued in another country, and businesses will be more certain about the legality of cross-border operations.

In September 2017, EC president Jean-Claude Juncker said that EU legislators have to conclude on all 24 proposals that have been put forward by the EC to successfully complete the Digital Single Market project.

A missed opportunity?

Companies will no longer be permitted to redirect consumers to a country-specific website without their consent, but consumers will need to organise a delivery method themselves if cross-border delivery is still unavailable.

The proposal does not apply to copyrighted content (as found on Spotify or iTunes), e-books, television series or films. Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation, said this was a missed opportunity. “Because of this backward move, the situation for consumers living or studying abroad or travelling who are currently not able to watch the content of their choice will not improve.

“It is especially frustrating for consumers who belong to a linguistic minority and would like to watch series or films in their own language.

“MEPs missed an opportunity to put an end to geoblocking and allow consumers to discover what makes Europe unique: its cultural diversity.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects