The EU's Distance Selling Directive
Basic Information on Distant Selling
Over and above the traditional mail order business, this sector nowadays also includes facilities such as teleshopping and internet shopping. However, these improved methods of buying goods and services at a distance involve certain dangers from the point of view of consumer protection. Often the consumer is enticed to order goods without careful prior consideration. Furthermore, distance selling does not allow him/her to inspect the goods immediately, as is the case in a "normal" shop.
In view of all this, and of the fact that the number of cross-border transactions in the single market is rapidly increasing due to the use of new technologies, the EU's Distance Selling Directive was adopted. This directive, which must be implemented in the member states' legal orders by 4 June 2000, covers all forms of distance contracts
The scope of the directive
The directive applies to all contracts which are negotiated exclusively by means of one or several means of distance communication. This term covers all means of communication which can be used to conclude a contract without the simultaneous physical presence of the parties, including specifically unaddressed printed matter, catalogues, press advertising with order forms, standard letters, telephone calls (with or without human intervention), radio, videophone, fax, teleshopping, as well as publicly accessible electronic media such as e-mail.
Types of contracts expressly excluded from the scope of the directive include those in the large and economically significant area of financial services, those relating to immovable property, and those concluded at auctions, by means of automatic vending machines or automated commercial premises.
Duty to inform the consumer
According to the directive the consumer must receive, before the conclusion of the contract, clear and comprehensible information regarding the supplier's name and address, the main features of the goods or services, the price and any other costs, arrangements for payment, the period for which the offer remains valid and, where appropriate, the minimum duration of the contract.
Contracts for the supply of goods intended for daily consumption delivered to the consumer's home at regular intervals and contracts for the supply of leisure services are excluded from this requirement.
On the telephone the supplier's identity and the commercial purpose of the call must be made clear to the consumer at the beginning of the conversation.
7 working days cooling-off period
Furthermore, the directive grants the consumer a right of withdrawal from distance selling contracts without giving any reason.
The cooling-off period is 7 working days from the day of receipt of the goods by the consumer or of conclusion of the contract for the supply of services. The seller/supplier must inform the consumer of this right before the contract is concluded; if he/she fails to do so, the cancellation period is extended to up to three months.
However, this right does not apply to certain types of contracts, including, to name just a few, contracts for the supply of goods made to the consumer's specifications, for the provision of services if performance has begun, with the consumer's agreement, within 7 working days of conclusion of the contract, for the supply of goods intended for daily consumption delivered to the consumer's home at regular intervals, and for the supply of leisure services.
If the consumer exercises his/her right of withdrawal, the seller/supplier must refund any payments made and reimburse certain necessary and useful expenses which the consumer may have incurred in connection with the property. The only charge which may be made to the consumer is the direct cost of returning the goods, provided that this was agreed in the contract.
30 days' delivery period
The directive also provides that the seller/supplier must perform his/her part of the contract within 30 days from the day following the day on which the consumer forwarded his/her order. If the seller/supplier is unable to do so, he/she must inform the consumer of this situation and refund any payments made. The 30-day time limit does not apply to contracts for the supply of goods intended for daily consumption delivered to the consumer's home at regular intervals and to contracts for the supply of leisure services.
Protection from fraudulent credit card use
As credit cards are the most frequent means of payment in distance selling the consumer requires special protection from fraudulent use. The directive therefore grants him/her the right to be re-credited with the sums paid or to have them returned if his/her credit card or credit card data were fraudulently used.