EU strengthens consumer rights over e-commerce returns

EU strengthens consumer rights over e-commerce returns

Returns services are set to become even bigger business for postal operators and parcel carriers in Europe from later this month, as new EU rules come into force. From 13th June, new consumer rights will come into force across the European Union, including the right for online shoppers to cancel their order within a fortnight-long “cooling off” period.

If a consumer within an EU country decides to cancel their order, they will have 14 calendar days from the day they received the purchase in which to send it back, rather than seven days from purchase, which was the case under previous rules.

A retailer will then have to provide a refund within 14 days of the order being cancelled, including any shipping charges paid as part of the order. Consumers will be obligated to return items within that 14-day period.

Under the new rules brought in by the EU Directive on Consumer Rights, retailers across Europe will be required to use standardised forms for consumer returns.

The rules under the EU Directive on Consumer Rights apply to other forms of distance selling as well as e-commerce, including phone and mail-order sales. It also applies to Internet auction sites like eBay.

But, the new rules do not apply to tickets or hotel booking, or to regular food and beverage deliveries, such as by a milkman or supermarket. They also do not apply to products sold by a private individual or for services like urgent repairs and maintenance work.

The rules also require distance-selling retailers to clearly disclose the total cost of a product of service, including all extra fees, prior to purchase.

If retailers do not properly inform the consumer about their right of return, the consumer has a full year to decide to cancel the product. Similarly, if traders want consumers to bear the shipping costs for returning items, if they do not clearly inform the consumer about this policy beforehand, the retailer will have to pay for the return.

Anders Falck, business manager at Finnish postal service Itella, said his company was urging e-commerce firms to ensure they are providing the right information to consumers.

“An online store should make it clear whether returning is subject to a charge or not and how it is done in practice,” he said.

Falck said the new rules would require more sharing of information from both the seller and the consumer than ever before.

Itella has developed an application for online merchants, in partnership with payment firm Suomen Maksuturva, which offers “smooth” management of online payments and returns.

The company said the application offers a self-service system in which the consumer can notify the retailer of a cancellation electronically, and print an address label off for the shipping of items back to the retailer.

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