Since 15 February 2016, all EU retailers who sell online should have complied with the rules of the EU’s new online dispute resolution (“ODR”) platform. Compliance is mandatory for all retailers — from small independent shops with online stores to multinational retailers.
What is the ODR platform?
The ODR platform is a website, administered by the EU, to serve as a portal for handling complaints between consumers and retailers relating to provided goods or services. Once a consumer submits a dispute they are having with a retailer to the ODR platform, the ODR platform contacts the retailer to enquire as to their preferred ADR procedure and whether they are subject to any required statutory ADR procedure in their Member State or have contractually agreed to ARD. The consumer will be asked to agree to the ADR procedure, at which stage the ODR platform withdraws and allows the parties to commence an ADR process for up to 90 days, in an effort to come to an agreement. The ODR platform also allows retailers to make complaints against and ADR requests to consumers.
What are the new requirements for retailers?
- For retailers who are not subject to any existing ADR regime in their Member State (most consumer goods retailers generally are not) and who have not contractually agreed to ADR in their terms of sale, then the requirement is to simply have a link on the retailer’s website to the dispute platform.
- All retailers must include an email address on their website. The contact form previously used by many retailers pursuant to which consumers could write to a retailer but are not supplied with an actual email address for that retailer will no longer suffice. Part of the reasoning for this is to allow the ODR platform to contact and correspond with the retailer directly when notified of a dispute. (This change in itself is likely to be mourned by retailers who favour the contact form to prevent their businesses being inundated with junk email!)
- Where a retailer is already obligated to use an ADR procedure (by local law or pursuant to contract), there are additional requirements, such as including a link to the dispute resolution platform in any emails sent to consumers.
Will my company have to comply?
Yes, all companies who sell online will have to include at least a link to the online dispute resolution platform on their website, and must also provide a public email address. However, there is no statutory requirement to actually consent to ADR. This means that, while a retailer will have to have a link to the ODR platform, if the platform is contacted by a consumer and then the ODR platform contacts the retailer, the retailer can refuse to participate in ADR.
For UK retailers at least, there is no immediate penalty for non compliance (not having the link on the website and not providing an email address). But, eventually they will probably be contacted by trading standards services and asked to make the necessary changes. If retailers then fail to follow the order, there is the potential for unlimited fines and even the threat of prison sentences of up to two years.
This means that it is not too late for UK retailers to amend their websites to comply!