EU online electronics retailers still don't all comply with guarantee laws

Consumer electronics retailers don't always inform consumers of their legal guarantee rights, the European Commission said

Almost one in five electronics retailers are still not providing consumers with enough information about their legal rights to a guarantee, according to the European Commission.

A sweep of 437 websites selling electronic goods in the European Union last October found that 54 percent of them did not sufficiently inform consumers of their free-of-charge right to get defective goods repaired or replaced.

That number is now down to 18 percent following eight months of national enforcement actions, but the Commission is working to get the remaining offenders to fix the problem.

Consumers in the EU have the right to have defective computers, smartphones, TV's and other electronic goods repaired or replaced within two years of purchase. This legal guarantee is mandatory and electronics retailers by law have to inform consumers in a clear and comprehensible way about the guarantee before a sale is made.

The Commission did not disclose which sites did not provide the necessary guarantee information, and did not immediately respond to questions.

One of the biggest problems seems to be France though, where 27 of 28 websites checked last October did not comply with the rules, and as of May 29, those 27 were still not compliant, Commission data showed.

Screenings of websites by national consumer enforcement authorities are regularly coordinated by the Commission to identify breaches of consumer law. This sweep on legal and commercial guarantees in the electronic goods sector took place in Norway, Iceland and 26 of the 28 EU countries. Austria and Poland did not participate.

The main problem found on 174 sites was the lack of a reminder a legal guarantee exists.

There were also 87 websites that had a misleading presentation of commercial guarantees, while 76 websites did not clearly state that consumers' rights are not affected if someone decides to get a commercial guarantee on top of their legal rights, the Commission said.

Moreover, 52 sites contained incomplete or misleading information about the trader's name or the geographical or email addresses.

One of the bigger companies EU consumer authorities have found to have violated guarantee laws in the past is Apple, which has been accused of presenting consumers with misleading information about their legal guarantee rights in order to push the sales of its AppleCare commercial warranty.

Apple settled a guarantee dispute in Belgium in March last year when it started explaining clearly on its websites which legal guarantee rights consumers have.

In 2011 though, Apple was fined €900,000 (then about US$1.2 million) by Italy's competition authority for not providing enough information about legal guarantees. Apple was fined for "unfair commercial practices that damage the consumer," and the fine was upheld by an Italian court in 2012.

Before buying a commercial guarantee, consumers should check whether it adds anything to the legal protection already offered by law, the Commission advised. If the commercial guarantee is included in the price of the product, buyers should check who offers it and what the duration is and make sure what it covers precisely. What's more, all applicable terms and conditions should be available to be checked before the purchase.

If they have a problem, consumers should immediately contact the trader, and if the problem is with a trader in another country, they can report the problem to the local European Consumer Center, the Commission said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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