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E-commerce firms still fear cross-border sales

An ever increasing number of European citizens are buying online across borders, according to the latest European Commission research, posing both opportunities and problems for the e-commerce market. The 2017 edition of the Commission's Consumer Conditions Scoreboard shows that while more EU consumers are shopping online and that their trust in e-commerce has increased, many retailers however are still reluctant to expand their online activities, and continue to have concerns linked to a higher risk of fraud and non-payment in cross-border sales. Retailers also fear different tax regulations, and differences in national contract law and in consumer protection rules.

Commissioner Věra Jourová said: "Consumers are now more confident when they shop online. And we've equipped them with a quick procedure to get their money back if something goes wrong, even when buying from another country. The challenge now is to encourage more businesses to respond to this growing demand."

The Scoreboard shows that consumer trust in e-commerce has dramatically increased. In ten years, the share of Europeans buying online has almost doubled, from 29.7% in 2007 to 55% in 2017. Since the last Scoreboard in 2015, consumers' levels of trust have increased by 12% for purchases from retailers located in the same country, and by 21% for purchases from other EU member states.

But the Scoreboard also shows that consumers are still facing obstacles when trying to buy from online retailers based in another EU country. For example, 13% of respondents reported a payment being refused and 10% were refused delivery of products to their country. As for retailers, only 4 out of 10 of those currently selling online said that they are considering selling both domestically and across borders in the coming year, because of the previously mentioned concerns.

“This is why the Commission has made a proposal for modern digital contract rules to harmonise contract rules for online sales of goods, and to promote access to digital content and online sales across the EU,” it says. 

The Commission improved its Small Claims procedure this July, which now allows consumers to benefit from a fast-track online procedure for claims of up to €5,000. The Commission is also encouraging out-of-court settlements with its Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform, which offers easy online access to alternative dispute solutions for online transactions.