European Parliament approves online shopping laws

The Consumer Rights Directive gives buyers the right to return goods and outlaws pre-ticked boxes

The European Parliament has approved new European Union-wide rules for online shopping.

The Consumer Rights Directive gives European buyers the right to change their minds about an online purchase within two weeks of receiving the goods. It also puts an end to hidden charges by outlawing the use of "pre-ticked" boxes on retail websites.

The directive, which revises previous laws, was approved by an overwhelming majority, with 615 votes in favor, 16 against and 21 abstentions. "We wanted to regulate off-premises and distance contracts such as online trading, as this is where the most cross-border sales take place," explained the European Parliament's chief negotiator Andreas Schwab.

Regulations safeguarding consumer rights prior to the new directive pre-date the digital revolution, leaving European consumers poorly protected when shopping online. As a result, only around 7 percent of Internet users have placed cross-border orders within the E.U., compared to an overall figure of 40 percent of consumers who buy online. According to the Parliament, this is largely due to concern about late delivery or non-delivery of goods as well as big discrepancies between different member states' consumer protection laws.

But the majority vote belies the controversy surrounding the negotiations. Some groups, including the Business Software Alliance claimed that "the Consumer Rights Directive is not the appropriate instrument to address protection for digital services."

Digital goods, such as music, films or software programs, have been exempted from the right of withdrawal in the approved text. Those sales will be regarded as irreversible from the moment downloading begins.

Following Thursday's vote in Parliament, the last, formal approval by the Council of Ministers is expected to take place in July. Member states will have a maximum of two years to implement the new rules.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

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