More protection for online purchases abroad

29 January 2019

European consumers making cross-border purchases are now better protected. The Member States and the European Parliament reached an agreement on this after almost two years of negotiations. In concrete terms, there will be a Europe-wide guarantee of at least two years. In addition, there will be clearer rules on defects or delivery errors. Finally, consumers will be guaranteed that their purchases are provided with the necessary updates. Member of the European Parliament Anneleen Van Bossuyt, who chairs the Consumer Affairs Committee, responded with satisfaction. “In the event of a disappointing purchase on a foreign website, the consumer will be better off from now on.”

Fragmented consumer rights

The rights of European consumers can vary considerably from country to country. This fragmentation causes uncertainty about the rights of consumers. Anneleen Van Bossuyt responded: “Only a third of the people who bought products online last year did so via a foreign website. That indicates a lack of confidence. Moreover, many products and services today also have a digital component. The existing legislation is lagging behind. However, anyone who buys an app, film, song or smart refrigerator must also be well protected. Both offline and online. That is the intention of this legislation.”

Two-year warranty

The new rules stipulate that consumers in the European Union will benefit from a two-year guarantee in the event of damage. Member States that already provide for a longer period, such as the Netherlands, Sweden or Finland, can retain it. “Traders and consumers need to know exactly what their rights are. That has always been a priority for us. We have long been calling for a two-year guarantee throughout Europe. Unfortunately, there will still be differences, but it is an important step forward that a Belgian consumer now also enjoys protection for at least two years when buying abroad,” MEP Van Bossuyt explains.

Clear steps in the event of a defect

In addition to the warranty period, the new rules also provide more clarity about the steps that consumers can take. For example, if their purchase has a defect or was installed incorrectly by the seller. “In the first instance, the customer can choose between repair or replacement. If this proves impossible or is not (correctly) carried out by the trader, the consumer can opt for a price reduction or termination of the contract in the second instance. This system is also fair for the trader, who can choose between repair or replacement based on his or her expertise if one option turns out to be much more expensive than the other,” says Van Bossuyt.

Necessary updates

Finally, consumers will now also have the guarantee that their purchases will be provided with the updates needed. “These updates are often necessary for the safety or operation of the product or service. This will prevent an expensive digital camera or an online game from becoming unusable in the short term. Salespeople must also keep their customers well informed about updates and the consequences of not performing an update.” Anneleen Van Bossuyt also points out the responsibility of the consumer: “Consumers who do not install updates within a reasonable period can obviously not count on the liability of the trader. Everyone must be aware of his or her own responsibility.”

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