Friday the 13th was perhaps not the most appropriate day for the European Union to push the button on reforming online consumer rights as the new laws are a positive step for both shoppers and digital marketers.
The enactment of the EU Directive on Consumer Rights unifies consumer protection laws across European countries and ensures all consumers across the European Union should receive equal treatment.
The differences that the directive irons out were quite considerable. For example, under the previous laws, a retailer using e-auctions to sell goods in Germany had the right to withdraw from the auction but was prohibited from doing the same in France.
But it is how the directive seeks to improve the delivery experience that the new laws will have a positive impact. Before working on the law, the EU had estimated that almost one in four consumers have had bad delivery experiences. The new regulation gives European consumers the right to pull out of any distance purchase within 14 days of placing the order. This is an extension on the legal requirements in many countries, including the UK, and these terms must be explicitly displayed or the cooling off period is extended to 12 months. However, there is also a good balance between consumer and retailer rights. For example, the retailer has a right to inspect returns for damage and keep part or all of a refund.
So what are the implications of the new regulation for marketers?
First of all, marketers will have to ensure they communicate with consumers in a more clear and transparent way.
Secondly, marketers will need to ensure that all fees and rules are explicitly stated, eliminating hidden charges and pre-ticked boxes in online marketing offers.
And finally, having consistency and transparency in the rules and regulations around distance selling is going to enable brands to build much more positive customer experiences around deliveries.
To comply with the new laws, retailers have to make changes to their websites, processes and policies. However they will no longer have to tailor national websites to different laws on consumer rights, saving costs and also creating new opportunities. This creates a level playing field for brands who want to grow internationally.
The opportunities are huge. My own company MetaPack, which coordinates £6 billion worth of ecommerce deliveries annually for some of Europe’s biggest retailers, is seeing a big increase in Europeans making online purchases in UK retailers. Indeed for the UK retail sector alone the forecast is for the 161 million orders posted cross-border this year to rise to 384 million in 2017 (Source IMRG/MetaPack UK Delivery Index, June 2014)
Work on the EU Online Shopping Directive began almost a decade ago. Today online shopping has changed and much improved since these new laws were first considered. But there’s more to do. The enforcement of the laws in the UK confirms the decisions of many retailers to embrace a higher standard of customer care. The new rules are contributing to an exciting time in online retail that will see further innovations in how retailers and marketers make delivery much more flexible and adaptive to customers’ needs and situations.