Consumers still face unjustified discrimination when shopping online within EU

12/14/2016

A new report from European Consumer Centres ECC-Net found that consumers continue to face restrictions and are regularly confronted with refusal to deliver or higher prices based on their nationality or place of residence when shopping online.

The ECC-Net has today launched a new report which analysis Article 20.2 of the Services Directive which outlines the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality and place of residence. The results shows that despite EU legislation prohibiting discrimination based on nationality and place of residence, business practices such as geo-blocking are still preventing consumers from accessing services when shopping online. ECC-Net is now calling for greater clarity on what constitutes discrimination under Article 20.2 and for stronger enforcement when breaches by service providers occur.

"The Services Directive has been an important step in improving the functioning of the Single Market for services. However, complaints received by ECC-Net confirmed that the principle of non-discrimination of Article 20.2 has not been effective in combatting unjustified service differentiation and it has not reduced legal uncertainty. Consumers too often face restrictions with no justification. ECC-Net welcomes the European Commission's acknowledgement that further action is necessary to give effect to the principle of non-discrimination and develop rules against discrimination based on the nationality or place of residence of consumers", said Jolanda Girzl, Director for ECC Sweden.

Report key findings

  • During 2013 - 2015 ECC-Net received 532 Article 20.2 related complaints. An increase of 140% in respect of the 222 complaints reported to ECC-Net between 2010 and 2012.
  • More than 82% of cases reported related to consumers' residence and took place mostly in relation to online transactions.
  • The largest number of complaints came from consumers based in Austria, Italy, and Ireland.
  • 68% of complaints were where consumers faced price or service differentiation, mostly with the purchase of electronic, household appliances, vehicles, clothes, books, music, or data downloads.
  • 25% of cases were in relation to the provision of services in the field of tourism and leisure, including those provided by travel agencies, accommodation providers or amusement parks.
  • More than 5% of cases were in the rental and leasing services sector.
  • Traders that carried out service and price restrictions/differentiation based on consumers' nationality or place of residence did so by: Blocking access to websites, automatic re-routing to another website, refusing delivery or payment, or applying different prices or sales conditions.

Case studies

  • An Italian consumer attempted to book a holiday in Italy via a website operated by a trader based in Germany. The consumer was required to provide an address in Germany and hence was unable to complete the online booking.
  • A British consumer booked a holiday in France for his family but subsequently found that the UK site was charging much more than the French equivalent. The consumer paid £870 with an offer for children under seven to go free but the French site offered the same holiday for the equivalent of £737 with an offer for children under 12 to go free.
  • A German consumer wanted to download books for his e-reader via a French trader's website. The trader refused this purchase referring to the customer's residence in Germany and advised they sell books only in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Monaco.

About the report

The report Do Invisible Borders Still Restrict Consumer Access to Services in the EU? is an analysis of Article 20.2 of the Services Directive which outlines the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality and place of residence. The report is the result of a joint project to investigate the work of ECC-Net under the Services Directive and the main problems encountered by consumers.

For more information contact:

Jolanda Girzl, Director, ECC Sweden, 054-19 40 52. ECC Sweden can also be followed on Twitter.

ECC Sweden is a part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net).