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60% of EU cross-border orders can't be completed

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There are widespread problems with refusals of orders for EU consumers trying to purchase goods online in another member state, according to a new European Commission report on cross-border consumer ecommerce published today.

The report is based on an extensive independent mystery shopping exercise where shoppers across the EU tried to purchase a list of 100 popular products such as cameras, CDs, books, and clothes from a cross-border provider.

Over 11,000 test orders were carried out and the research found that 60% of the transactions could not be completed by consumers because the trader did not ship the product to their country or did not offer adequate means for cross-border payment.

Latvia, Belgium, Romania and Bulgaria are the countries where consumers are least able to buy cross-border but in all but two countries the odds of succeeding in a cross-border purchase are lower than 50%.

In more than half of member states, 50% or more or the products could be found 10% cheaper (transport costs included) from a website in another country. And 50% of products searched could not be found in national sites and were only offered by another member state trader.

As a result of the research, the European Commission has presented a series of measures to be taken to reduce the complex regulatory environment which is acting as a disincentive for businesses to serve consumers in other member states and, to boost confidence in online trading, problems regarding the collection of commercial data and its use to profile and target consumers is also to be analysed in a stakeholders forum.

"The results of this research are very striking, we now have concrete facts and figures showing the extent to which the European single market for consumers is just not happening in online retail," says European Consumer Commissioner Maglena Kuneva. "Better deals and greater product choice for consumers on our vast European market could be just a click of a mouse away. But in reality online shoppers are still largely confined within national borders. Europe's consumers are being denied better choice and value for money. They deserve better. We must simplify the legal maze that is preventing online traders from offering their goods in other countries".

Priority areas for action identified by the European Commission include:

  • Creation of a simple, single set of rights for EU consumers. The proposal for the Consumer Rights Directive aims to replace the current confusing patchwork of laws with one simple EU-wide set of rights, offering equal protection to consumers while reducing compliance costs for retailers and offering them legal clarity.

  • Boosting cross-border enforcement. Coordinated EU-led action to enforce consumer law (such as "internet sweeps") should continue, to stamp out illegal practices and boost consumer confidence in cross-border shopping.

  • Simplifying cross-border rules for retailers, for example on value-added tax, recycling fees and copyright levies. Currently some retailers must deal with several tax authorities, face different national rules on recycling electronic waste, and may end up paying copyright levies in several countries for the same goods. The Commission's proposals address the first two problems but, it says, on levies practical solutions must be found quickly.
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