- The right to withdrawal must not be undermined when making purchases online.
- The number of complaints from consumers about cancellations also rose with economic activity in online shopping during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Online marketplaces need to bear greater responsibility.
Order quickly and straightforward returns if not satisfied – not all online retailers are living up to this promise. Some Internet retailers are very creative when trying to prevent the return of goods ordered online. Retailers use many reasons to try to stop consumers from returning goods. The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv) has received various complaints about this issue. Online marketplaces need to take more responsibility.
Anyone who purchases online generally has the right to return the goods within 14 days – the European right to withdrawal ensures this. However, consumers are repeatedly encountering problems when they want to exercise this right. For example, the sellers fail to provide an address for returns or a returns label or simply do not respond when the consumer attempts to contact them. Recently, retailers are even offering discounts or credit notes instead of taking back the goods in certain instances.
Complaints to Consumer Associations about online retail have risen overall during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, there is also a significant increase in complaints about cancellations.1 Consumers report such problems e.g. when making purchases on online marketplaces and when ordering from countries outside Europe. However, according to a representative survey by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv), 93 per cent of the users surveyed do (in fact) expect online marketplaces to ensure that retailers on the platform abide by EU rules.2
“Online marketplaces need to be made increasingly aware of their responsibility to make online retail more consumer-friendly,” demands Stefanie Grunert, advisor in the Legal and Trade Team at the Federation of German Consumer Organisations. "In the current discussions about the Digital Services Act at European level, vzbv advocates that online marketplaces exercise greater care to ensure that retailers on the platform adhere to EU laws. This also means that the retailers must identify personally, and that marketplaces must verify the identity. If the marketplaces fail to meet this duty of care, they must be held accountable."
1 The analyses of the complaints statistics are based on the records of all 16 Consumer Associations from total of some 200 Consumer Advice Centres in Germany. [The data is representative of consumer problems with respect to complaints and advice given in the Consumer Associations’ Consumer Advice Centres.]
2 Method: online survey. Population: people aged 16 and above who have purchased something at least once on an online marketplace during the last 12 months. Sample size: 2,848 participants. Survey period: 25 September to 8 October 2020. Statistical error tolerance: max +/- 1.8 percentage points in the entire sample. Institute: hopp Marktforschung, Berlin.