Online platform AliExpress has adjusted its general terms and conditions following an action of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) in cooperation with the European Commission. The other European regulators that are members of the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) were kept informed on a regular basis.
AliExpress has clarified its general terms and conditions for European consumers. The new conditions will apply to all purchases that are made on the platform. The rights and obligations of the online platform and consumers are now more in balance. Previously, AliExpress had already changed its European websites in order to bring them more in line with consumer protection rules, for example creating a special page with information about rights of European consumers. In addition, the general terms and conditions were already brought more in line with the existing rules by explicitly referring to those rules in the terms and conditions.
It has now been clarified that European consumers can always turn to a court in their own country, instead of having to go to a court in Hong Kong. The general terms and conditions now also stipulate that the online platform will inform consumers in a timely manner about any changes to the general terms and conditions. The rights of consumers have been phrased more clearly, such as the right to cancel, and the right to a refund.
Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “We believe it is important that consumers are able to make their purchases online with confidence, including when visiting international online stores and platforms. With these changes, consumers will be better protected when dealing with problems. That is good for consumers, and it makes competition with other online platforms and stores fairer. We are therefore satisfied with these changes.”
What was this case about?
AliExpress is a well-known global retail platform based in Singapore that also targets Dutch consumers using its Dutch online store. This means that it must comply with the rules that apply to online selling in the EU.
AliExpress uses general terms and conditions (the proverbial small print) that apply to all purchases made by consumers on the platform. These contain provisions that were not entirely in line with consumer protection rules. Following action by ACM, AliExpress has implemented several changes:
- The general terms and conditions are now presented directly on the homepage using a link;
- If they have disputes with sellers, consumers can now turn to a court in their own countries instead of having to go to a court in Hong Kong;
- Additional costs such as VAT and customs duties are presented prior to the purchase;
- If the platform cancels the contract, consumers are, in principle, entitled to a full refund;
- It is explained on the website and in the conditions how consumers can cancel their accounts;
- If consumers enjoy additional protections in their country, for example with regard to warranties or the right of withdrawal, those rules take precedence;
- Consumers are informed in advance about any changes to the general terms and conditions, and will then have the opportunity to cancel the contract on the platform.
Finally, AliExpress has drawn up a Dutch version of its general terms and conditions for Dutch consumers.
General terms and conditions
Many businesses use general terms and conditions that apply to all purchases made by consumers. Several standard preconditions are included in general terms and conditions. These cannot contain any unreasonable provisions that put consumers at a disadvantage vis-à-vis businesses. In addition, they need to be formulated in easy-to-understand language, and must be presented in an accessible manner. They cannot be adjusted prematurely. When implementing changes at the expense of consumers, businesses must offer consumers the opportunity to cancel the contract.
The digital economy
In 2022, too, the digital economy is one of ACM’s top priorities. The starting point of ACM’s oversight is people and businesses reap the benefits of the digital economy. Platform providers play an important role in safeguarding the rights of consumers.