The launch of an online dispute resolution platform by the European Commission might be a milestone for eCommerce and any B2C dispute in Europe. 

The frequent issue in eCommerce disputes is that consumers are not willing to bear the costs of a dispute since they are excessive compared to the value of the dispute itself. At the same time, traders are in some cases reluctant from offering their products and services in other jurisdictions since the costs of potential disputes outreaches the initial earnings.

In order to deal with such issue and foster cross border sales within the European Union, the European Parliament adopted the EU Directive on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes and the EU Regulation on online dispute resolution for consumer disputes.

The EC online dispute resolution platform

Following the adoption of the above pieces of legislation, the European Commission has now established an online platform for the handling of disputes between traders and consumers relating not only to eCommerce sales, but open to any kind of B2C sale. The goal is to create a procedure that is free of charge, fast (it has to be concluded within 90 days) and manageable for both consumers and traders.

Indeed, the platform itself will only provide a technical support for disputes to be handled by local alternative dispute resolution entities, but this support is quite relevant since it avoids any cost on the side of consumers encouraging them to activate the procedure.

What changes for eCommerce operators?

eCommerce operators and online marketplaces – including gaming websites for instance – are obliged to add a link to the online dispute resolution platform on their website. This provision is in line with what provided by the Consumer Rights EU Directive under which, in case of B2C distance or off premises contracts, the trader has to inform the consumer about the possibility of having recourse to an out-of-court complaint and redress mechanism to which the trader is subject and the methods for having access to it.

Under the EU Directive on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes, it is up to Member States to make traders obliged to use the alternative dispute resolution procedure and to make them bound by the decisions of the alternative dispute resolution entity. Therefore such matter might change depending on the relevant country.

There is no doubt that the measures above show a new approach on B2C sales required within the European Union. This approach has already been tested for several years for instance in relation to disputes concerning domain names and, more recently, in Italy for copyright breaches performed on the Internet.

What is the applicable timing?

The Directive had to be implemented by the 9 July 2015 while under the online dispute resolution platform managed by the European Commission is already in place, but will be fully operational from 15 February 2016. As a consequence there is no much time to become compliant.