By George Markopouliotis
The 2017 edition of the Consumer Conditions Scoreboard shows that more and more EU consumers are shopping online and that their trust in e-commerce has increased, in particular in buying online from other EU countries.
Commissioner Jourová said: “My priority has been to improve trust of the people and smaller retailers in the Digital Single Market. Consumers are now more confident when they shop online. And we’ve equipped them with a quick procedure to get their money back if something goes wrong, even when buying from another country.”
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The Scoreboard shows that consumer trust in e-commerce has dramatically increased. In 10 years the share of Europeans buying online has almost doubled (from 29.7% in 2007 to 55% in 2017).
Since the last Scoreboard consumers’ levels of trust have increased by 12 percentage points for purchases from retailers located in the same country and by 21 percentage points for purchases from other EU Member States.
However, the Scoreboard shows that consumers are still facing obstacles when trying to buy from online retailers based in another EU country. For example, 13% of respondents reported a payment being refused and 10% were refused delivery of products to their country.
As for retailers, only four out of 10 of those currently selling online said that they are considering selling both domestically and across borders in the coming year. Many still have concerns about selling online in other countries, namely because of a higher risk of fraud, differences in national tax regulations or national contract law rules, or differences in consumer rules.
Compared to the previous edition of the Scoreboard, consumers are more aware of their rights. On average, 13% of consumers are aware of their key rights (an increase of 3.6 percentage points since 2014).
However, consumer conditions are generally better in northern and western EU countries than in eastern and southern ones. Some 94.5% of Finns complain when they encounter a problem, for example, whereas only 55.6% of Bulgarians do so. Exposure to unfair commercial practices, such as the use of aggressive marketing techniques, also varies greatly: 40.9% of Croatians are affected, in comparison to 3.4% of Austrians.
This is why the Commission has made a proposal for modern digital contract rules to harmonise contract rules for online sales of goods, and to promote access to digital content and online sales across the EU. This is coupled with a proposal to update consumer rules to ensure that every European consumer is aware of their rights and that these rights are correctly enforced throughout the EU.
The 2017 Scoreboard shows that retailers’ knowledge of consumer rules hasn’t improved since the previous edition. Only 53.5% of their answers to questions on basic consumer rights were correct. Again, the level of knowledge varies between countries, with only 36.2% of Croatian retailers knowing these rights, compared to 62.3% of retailers in Germany.
While consumers are finding fewer reasons to complain, the ones who have done so are more satisfied with how their complaints are handled.
However, almost one third of consumers decided not to complain, as they considered the sums involved were too small (34.6%) or that the procedure would have taken too long (32.5%).
This is why the Commission has improved the Small Claims procedure, which now allows consumers to benefit from a fast-track online procedure for claims up to €5,000. The Commission is also encouraging out-of-court settlements with the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform, which offers easy online access to alternative dispute entities for online transactions.
George Markopouliotis is head of the European Commission Representation in Cyprus