Online store Sneakerstad must deliver to consumers their ordered products such as shoes, bags, and belts on time. In addition, Sneakerstad must give consumers their money back within 14 days if they invoke their right of withdrawal (cooling-off period). And it must make changes to several key elements of its website in order to comply with consumer protection rules. Moreover, Sneakerstad cannot ask consumers to delete negative reviews before helping them. These are some of the requirements that the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has laid down following an investigation into complaints filed by consumers.
Sneakerstad has violated consumer protection rules. That is why ACM has imposed an order subject to periodic penalty payments on the company. With the order, ACM forces Sneakerstad to comply with the rules that protect consumers when making online purchases. If the company fails to comply with the order by 9 September 2022, it will have to pay a weekly penalty payment of 15,000 euros up to a maximum of 150,000 euros.
Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “We make sure that online stores comply with consumer protection rules, thereby protecting consumers. After all, consumers must be able to make online purchases with confidence. Sneakerstad has failed to comply with these rules, and that is why we have decided to impose an order subject to periodic penalty payments.”
What was this case about?
Consumers filed complaints with ACM that www.sneakerstad.nl failed to deliver on time (or not even at all) and does not give consumers their money back (or not on time) if consumers cancel their purchases within the cooling-off period. Sneakerstad was difficult to reach for questions and complaints, and, in some cases, only helped consumers on the condition they deleted their negative reviews first. Finally, ACM’s investigation revealed that Sneakerstad failed to keep their administrative systems in order.
Sneakerstad’s practices are prohibited, and they lead to annoyance and frustration among consumers, since their orders are not delivered on time (or not at all) or they are not given their money back (or not on time). As a result, consumers have less confidence in online shopping. As a consequence, they might miss out on products that they otherwise would have wanted and bought. This is not only harmful to them, but it also harms providers that do play by the rules and that miss out on potential sales as a result of reduced consumer confidence.
Consumers that shop online must be able to have confidence in the information that online stores provide about their products, prices, delivery times, and the right of withdrawal. In addition, it must be easy for consumers to reach online stores if they have any complaints or questions. This is mandated by the consumer protection rules that ACM enforces.
What are ACM’s requirements?
ACM requires Sneakerstad to make the following improvements:
- Providing clear information about delivery times, and following through on them;
- Providing correct information about the 14-day cooling-off period (right of withdrawal);
- If consumers cancel their purchases within the cooling-off period, and cancel the agreement, they will have to be given back their money within 14 days;
- If consumers return their purchases, no costs can be charged other than the costs for directly returning those items. Consumers must be properly informed of these rules prior to purchase;
- Sneakerstad must keep its administrative system in order so that they are able to have an overview of all activities for each individual order. This also applies to the registration of questions and complaints, and the handling thereof;
- Sneakerstad must ensure that consumers are able to reach the company using contact options such as phone or email. Its responses cannot be a standard reply containing incorrect information;
- Sneakerstad cannot demand from consumers to delete negative reviews before helping them with their complaints and questions.
Sneakerstad has until 9 September 2022 to implement these changes. If they fail to do so on time or not at all, Sneakerstad B.V. must pay 15,000 euros per week up to a maximum of 150,000 euros.
ACM and the digital economy
The digital economy is a key topic on ACM’s Agenda. Consumers must be protected against online misleading practices. That is why ACM has published its ‘Guidelines on the protection of the online consumer’, among other guidelines. These guidelines have been based on European consumer protection rules, and explain at what point online persuasion turns into deception. These guidelines form the basis for investigations and enforcement actions by ACM. They also help promote fair competitive relations between businesses. These guidelines are currently being revised.
6-9-2022 ACM imposes order subject to periodic penalty payments on Sneakerstad (in Dutch)