All EU Member States were required to implement the new Consumer Rights Directive by December 2013 and apply the legislation to consumer contracts concluded on or after 13 June 2014. Most of the requirements of the Directive have been implemented in the UK by the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 replacing the 1997 Consumer Rights Laws.
The new law had three main purposes, the first of which was to update those old laws where for example until it was introduced, digital products and downloads had no reference in trading laws, which meant that consumers had no protection.
The second purpose was to harmonise consumer trading laws across the whole of Europe so that people can buy items from any EU shop while knowing that they are doing so under the same conditions and protections as if they were buying in their own country.
The third goal, and the main one we want to deal with here, was to outlaw some of the very shady practices followed by a large number of E-Commerce stores and this posting will cover these specific areas in more detail. For a detailed explanation of the new regulations you can read them here among many places.
Some of the main practices that have now been outlawed are :
It is now completely illegal to sneak any item, whether that is another product or service, into a shoppers basket while they are attempting to purchase a different item – this is often done through the use of an opt-out radio button or check box on a previous page. Typical examples of this have been websites adding insurance products automatically when purchasing plane tickets or car hire but this applies to any type of purchase.
A hidden cost occurs when a user gets to the last step of the checkout process, only to discover some unexpected charges have appeared – these can include delivery charges, tax, a subscription, extra shipping charges or extra items. It is still possible to charge for additional items but what is illegal is failing to advise the customer about them or explain what they are. One area of concern for some retailers was when shipping goods to remote areas (many charge extra for shipping to Scottish Highlands and Islands for example as courier charges are more to these areas). In this case, if you are not able to a specify an additional cost in advance, you still have to declare that these charges will be applied to the order and ideally, have to show these at least one stage before payment is taken.
This type of practice occurs when you are buying what you believe to be a single item and then are automatically charged one or more additional times in the future. It is still OK to sell products or services such as membership packages with recurring payments but this must be made completely transparent at the time of the initial purchase.