eCommerce rules should be simplified

Written by Evelyne Gebhardt on 12 July 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

eCommerce rules should be simplified to make things easier for consumers, writes Evelyne Gebhardt.

Evelyne Gebhardt | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


Developing eCommerce and the digital single market is a priority for the EU, and especially the European Parliament. Recently, through the geoblocking regulation, MEPs clarified the rules to ensure that buyers of goods and services across the EU are treated like local customers. 

Generally and across committee lines, many MEPs seem to agree with the Commission's credo that a streamlined and more harmonised legal environment will boost the eCommerce sector's performance. 

In my opinion however, we must pay attention to the evolving eCommerce market, especially to new products and services in a fast-moving market environment, which pose totally new legal challenges for consumers and small businesses. 


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We have to ask ourselves, where do online purchasers need protection and what they are most likely to care about. 

The latter issue is of greatest importance: Many of the existing rules in the field of consumer protection are written with a fictional consumer in mind: one who reads labels, takes the time to scrutinise contracts, and checks the terms and conditions. 

In our present and future legislative work, like for instance the digital content directive, the online sales directive or the ePrivacy directive, we must acknowledge that consumers are unlikely to actively make a choice when one option is a default. 

This is why, for example, consumers always agree with the provided data protection declaration or why automatically renewable contracts go on for so long. It is also established that consumers can only deal effectively with a limited amount of information. 

For this reason, it is not sensible to throw more information at consumers than they can process. The 2011 directive on consumer rights lists no less than 20 items of information that has to be provided to the consumer before an online contract is concluded. 

However, this does not imply that disclosure mandates should be abandoned altogether as a technique. The issue is to take into account that consumers will not read much. In this regard, labelling information makes sense. 

This is why I am fiercely in favour of a new EU lifespan guarantee model which could complement our existing EU consumer protection law, which seeks to protect consumers from making decisions deemed bad for them and offers remedies when they do. 

An EU lifespan guarantee would not replace statutory guarantee periods or limitation periods, but could enable the consumer to take more informed (easy) decisions while promoting more sustainability of Internet of Things devices, such as smart washing machines, mattresses and tea kettles which keep producing more and more so called eWaste. 

As far as I am concerned we can foster the development of eCommerce rules within the EU not only by making legislation leaner, but smarter and more beneficial to our citizens, like for instance by introducing an EU lifespan guarantee model, which obliges producers of electricity driven products to inform consumers about the lifespan of their product. 

This clear and comprehensible information will leave the consumer no doubts about the longevity of the respective good and with remedies against the producer in case they refuse to offer information on the lifespan of their products. 

On our way to making a more compatible and consumer friendly eCommerce legal regime we have to re-think our existing legislative models and apply more innovative models as important consumer directives, including the directive on unfair contract terms, are in the process of being revamped as part of the Commission's regulatory fitness and performance programme (REFIT).

 

About the author

Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, DE) is Parliament's co-rapporteur on towards a digital single market act

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