The European Parliament has adopted a new legislative resolution concerning consumer rights on 23 June 2011. The government directive, a slightly modified version of the proposal amended on 24 March 2011, will impact e-businesses greatly in all member States.

  1. On the withdrawal and return

period

The new rules stipulate an extension of the withdrawal period for distance or off-premises sales, which was originally of 7 days in France. The consumer will now be granted a 14-day withdrawal period, during which they will be able to decide whether or not they wish to withdraw from the contract. The withdrawal period will be initiated when the consumer receives the goods. If they decide to return the goods, the consumer will have to inform the trader about their decision to withdraw. The announcement of the decision will most likely be made on the website from which the goods were bought. From that point, the consumer will have 14 more days to send back the purchase. The reimbursement by the trader will have to be made at least 14 days after being informed of the customer’s decision to withdraw. Moreover, if the trader fails to inform their customer about the possibility of withdrawal, the period for withdrawal will be extended to 1 year.  

  1. On the reimbursement policy

The trader will withhold the reimbursement until they have received the goods back, or at least evidence that the consumer has sent back the purchase. All costs, including the sending of the goods will be borne by the trader. The only case in which the shipping costs will not entirely be refunded by the trader is if the customer decided to choose another shipping method than the cheaper one offered by the trader (e.g. express shipping).On the other hand, it is the consumer’s responsibility to bear the return costs. Originally, Members of the European Parliament considered that if the purchase was above 40 Euros, it was the trader’s responsibility to pay for these expenses. However, distance selling professionals considered that this regulation would induce a raise in the prices and a diminution in the choice of distance or off-premises goods. The European Council eventually decided not to adopt this policy. Instead, the trader will have to clearly specify the return costs of the goods. Should they fail to comply with this policy, they will have to bear these costs. It is important to note that all reimbursement by the trader can’t be made by voucher, unless the consumer has agreed to accept that kind of payment.

Some types of contracts are excluded from the scope of this directive, including goods that are likely to deteriorate in a short period of time (e.g. foodstuffs), goods that depend on the market fluctuations (e.g. alcohol, transport), goods that were specifically crafted for the customer and contracts for gambling.

Members of the European Union are free to take “stronger” measures to protect the consumer, but this new directive shall be viewed as the minimum required. Member States will be given 2 years to legislate this new directive and implement it in their country.