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Netherlands Consumer Authority launches information campaign for online retailers

The Netherlands Consumer Authority (CA) today launched an information campaign, called ‘Are you a good online retailer? Check it here.’ This campaign is aimed at retailers that have an online shop targeting consumers. These retailers are given information about the rules that apply to them, and about how they can be implemented correctly. The CA has developed several tools (a mockup online shop and a checklist) to present the rules in a more accessible manner. 

The number of online sales and online shops is on the rise, but so is the number of complaints about online sales submitted, for example, with consumer information portal ConsuWijzer. Online sales are subject to special rules that protect consumers. Many online retailers are not fully aware of these rules. This causes consumers inconvenience, for example if the online shop does not deliver on time, but the consumer has already paid for his purchase, or if the online shop gives incorrect information on, for example, the grace period, and the shop is unavailable for questions or complaints. Bernadette van Buchem, director of the CA, adds: ‘Consumers like to shop online, and do so in great numbers. They must be confident that making online purchases is safe. This is also in the interest of retailers. Online shops that follow the rules earn the trust of consumers. Online shops that do not follow the rules attract the attention of regulators.’

Campaign on being a ‘Good online retailer’

The online retail industry is a dynamic one. Every year, a considerable number of new retailers enter the market, who are often not really aware of the rules that apply to them. Many online shops are launched from private homes by individuals, and are often small in scale. A recent survey conducted by the CA revealed that less than a third of the online shops surveyed had posted the rules correctly on their websites. Furthermore, the CA has seen an increase in the number of questions and complaints about online retailers (an increase of 14% in 2012 compared with 2011). These mostly concern delivery and payment issues, the grace period, and online retailers’ being difficult to reach in case of questions or complaints. The campaign will therefore particularly focus on these concerns. 

For the campaign, the CA identified the most important rules that apply to online retailers that offer products to consumers. In addition to listing those rules, the CA also explains how retailers can observe the rules: when are they doing it right and when are they doing it wrong? All information (in Dutch) can be found on the CA’s website Moreover, the rules are further explained and made more accessible for retailers by two tools that the CA has developed:

  1. Your shop: a mockup online shop, which informs retailers about what rules apply to them, and which explains to them visually and in writing how they can meet statutory requirements.
  2. A check list that retailers can use to find out which requirements their online shops already meet, and which ones they still need to satisfy. 

In its campaign, the CA also explains what rules that the Netherlands Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority (OPTA) enforces apply to online retailers, such as rules on cookies and spam.

The interpretation of these rules has been coordinated at a national as well as an international level.  If retailers do not comply with the rules, the CA can take action against them, and could, for example, impose fines of up to EUR 450,000 per violation.

Facts and figures about the industry

In 2011, approximately 7,300 new online retailers registered with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce., the Dutch trade association for online retailers, puts the number of online retailers in 2011 at over 37,000. Total turnover in 2011 was EUR 9 billion. The 2012 turnover is estimated at EUR 9.8 billion, which is more than 10 percent of the total turnover of the entire Dutch retail industry.  Many online shops are launched from the private homes of individuals, and are often small in scale. Within five years after launch, more than half of them will have closed down. Among these retailers, knowledge of the rules is limited, say experts with whom the CA consults.

Online Shop Trade Show

On January 23 and 24, the Jaarbeurs convention center in the Dutch city of Utrecht hosts the Online Shop Trade Show, which attracts retailers with an online presence who wish to keep informed about the latest trends. As part of the CA’s information campaign, the CA is an exhibitor at the Online Shop Trade Show together with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce and the Dutch Tax Administration. Retailers can visit the jointly operated booth for more information about statutory rules that apply to them.