The virtual world is not a legal vacuum – quite the contrary, in fact. Retailers and manufacturers are called upon by legislation to comply with numerous directives. These directives primarily protect consumers. Some demands on eCommerce can in practice pose challenges to companies, as a lawyer specialised in IT, Nicolai Amereller, summarises. Particularly in the cancellation policy he envisages difficulties for retailers.
On the other hand, the directives for businesses who are active in Germany and which operate in international eCommerce pledge a clear provision: For B2C transactions, the law of the country of origin applies, from which the buyer originates. This principle applies equally to competition law. For German retailers, German competition law thus also applies abroad.
The list of guidelines for consumers and businesses has been comprehensive and detailed since the legislation introduced from 14.06.2014. In the following, we will show you the most important guidelines in eCommerce:
Directive #1: Supplier identification and contact options
Operators in eCommerce, in principle, have to maintain certain information in a visible spot on their website: The supplier identification should be easy for the consumer to find and to establish contact as openly as possible. Such information to be given includes the name, postal address, e-mail address and telephone number, as well as the relevant commercial register and details of the competent supervisory authority. Additionally, the retailer has to set up a free customer hotline (paid hotlines are now prohibited).
For online providers, it is advisable to provide this information in all circumstances: According to the German Telemedia Act, a false or inadequate supplier identification can lead to fines of up to 50,000 Euros.
Directive #2: Right of revocation
The retailer grants the consumer a legal right to revocation of 14 days, which becomes valid upon receipt of goods. The retailer undertakes to notify the buyer of their revocation options before the purchase is concluded – should they fail to do so, the purchaser’s right of revocation will extend to a full twelve months. Should the buyer resort to revocation, they must notify the retailer unambiguously of this fact. In order to ensure this, it is again the duty of the retailer to provide a template revocation form online.
Should the retailer not comply with the right of revocation, their shop can be sued before foreign courts relying upon foreign law. It is especially recommended for small online retailers to determine the countries in which they offer their products.
Directive #3: Transparency in business dealings
Before the customer places their order in the shopping cart, the dealer is obliged to present information on the further ordering process. These include the delivery time of the goods, possible delivery restrictions, which countries are supplied or which are not, and which payment methods are accepted by the online shop. Furthermore, the retailer must provide the customer with information over each individual step leading to a contractual conclusion. The following are included here:
- An indication of how the customer can recognise possible input errors before ordering – and how to correct these by suitable technical means
- Information on the code of conduct according to which the retailer conforms
- Information about the contract text itself: In which languages it is available in and how the buyer can retrieve and save it
- A confirmation of the received order
Directive #4: No promotional e-mails without consent from the buyer
To send promotional e-mails to the customer, the customer must firstly have unambiguously consented. Otherwise, these are deemed inadmissible, especially if they serve to establish a business contact. If the customer agrees to receive advertising, they must also have the option to terminate receipt of such material.
The retailer must comply with further guidelines to frame the contract process with the buyer in accordance with the law:
- The date of delivery must be communicated to the customer before the purchase is completed. The merchant undertakes to deliver within 30 days – should they fail to do so, the buyer can withdraw from the purchase
- The buyer must know in which package form their order will arrive (included here is whether their order will be sent in one or several consignments)
- The retailer bears the risk for loss of or damage to the goods until such time as the customer accepts them
- For certain forms of payment, online retailers may only request surcharges if they incur increased costs themselves. The requested costs here must cover those actual costs incurred
Since the end of 2014, most of these consumer directives have been addressing, and primarily offering, customer protection. For you as a retailer, it is not always easy to comply with all the directives in practice – especially with regard to the delivery requirements: Often as a retailer you do not even know in how many consignments you will send the order – yet you must inform the buyer of this before purchase.
Of course, you should do everything to comply with the legal requirements and also to provide maximal service. With respect to potential fines, you should regularly check and, if necessary, adjust your official data. Additionally, the consumer directives represent the basis for a reputable appearance of your online shop. This in turn helps you appear trustworthy to the customer. How you can further gain the trust of the customer, we show you in our blog entry Employing purchasing impulses.
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