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European consumer authorities: online stores still discriminate based on place of residence

Many online stores inform consumers insufficiently about the right to cancel purchases (right of withdrawal) and their right to warranty (conformity). In addition, the rules on non-discrimination (also called geoblocking rules) are often complied with insufficiently. These rules stipulate that online retailers cannot treat customers differently based on their nationalities or places of residence. These are some of the findings of a joint study conducted by the European consumer authorities. On 31 January, they published the first results of this study carried out among approximately 500 online stores, selling clothing and shoes, furniture and household items, and electric appliances.

As one of the regulators working together in the European network of consumer authorities, called the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) also took part in this study. ACM will ask the companies that were included in the study to adjust their websites. In cases where non-Dutch online stores are involved, ACM will send requests for enforcement to its partners in the CPC-network.

Online stores comply insufficiently with rules against online discrimination

Some of the online stores in the study fail to comply with the European rules against unequal treatment based on nationality or place of residence. These geoblocking rules have been in effect since early-December 2018. They ensure that consumers anywhere in the EU are able to make online purchases against the same conditions. One of ACM’s findings was that consumers were unable to make purchases in online stores in another EU country if they wanted to have their purchase delivered in that country or if they wanted to pick up their purchase in that country, but, at the same time, entered a non-Dutch billing address.

What is geoblocking?

Online retailers cannot treat customers unequally based on their nationalities or places of residence. This occurs, for example, if Dutch consumers are not given access to a French online store or are automatically, without their consent, redirected to the Dutch version of that online store, or if they cannot purchase products or services in, for example, Germany against the same conditions as customers from Germany (the ‘shop-like-a-local’ principle). It should be noted that online stores are not required to deliver everywhere in Europe, but all European consumers must be able to order and pay everywhere in Europe against the same conditions as local customers.

Do you believe an online trader in the EU is guilty of geoblocking? Please consider filing a report with ACM ConsuWijzer.