Online shoppers to get two-week right of return

MEPs have voted through a compromise law that will give online buyers the ability to return goods within 14 days of delivery, but will not force traders to sell their goods across the whole EU

British shoppers will get their money back if they return goods bought online within two weeks of delivery, under new consumer protection laws voted through by members of the European Parliament.

European flags

Shoppers will get their money back if they return goods bought online within two weeks of delivery, under new laws voted through by members of the European Parliament.

In a vote on Thursday, the new Consumer Rights Directive was passed by 615 votes to 16, with 21 abstentions. The adopted text will have to be enforced in EU member states within two years, if it gets approved by the Council of Ministers in July.

"The new directive is... a good example of how more Europe brings more benefits to consumers and traders alike. We have reached a well-balanced deal which meets both calls from consumers and business interests," European Parliament chief negotiator Andreas Schwab said in a statement from the parliament.

The text that won MEPs' approval was a compromise, having shed previous proposals that included forcing traders to sell their goods across the entire EU, and to pay for the postage when a customer decides to return an item.

MEPs had originally wanted to make traders pay the return costs of any goods priced above €40 (£35.70), but the Council of Ministers had made it clear they would not agree to this.

We have reached a well-balanced deal which meets both calls from consumers and business interests.

– Andreas Schwab, chief negotiator

The text voted through by MEPs includes the parliament's "final offer", the European Parliament said. "The cost of returning any bulky item which cannot be returned by normal postage be clearly stated in the sales contract, so the consumer knows how much it will cost should he choose to return his purchase," it said.

If the trader does not give this information to their customer, that customer will not have to cover the return postage. Failure to inform consumers about the withdrawal right will automatically extend the withdrawal period to one year — the parliament's original proposal.

At the moment, British consumers have the right under Distance Selling Regulations to cancel an online purchase within a 'cooling-off' period of seven days after receiving the goods. The seller must then reimburse the buyer within 30 days.

The Consumer Rights Directive text — the most complex piece of consumer rights legislation to be formulated in the EU since the introduction of the single market — also provides an exemption for digital goods such as music, films or software. Once downloading begins, the new rules state, the sale becomes irreversible.

Forum of Private Business

The Forum of Private Business (FPB), which represents small businesses in the UK, said on Friday that it was disappointed at the introduction of the right to return goods bought online within 14 days of purchase.

"People are well aware that when you buy things over the internet you have to be aware that you want what you buy before you buy it," FPB spokesman Chris Gorman told ZDNet UK. He argued that online traders charge less because they do not have to pay for shop premises and customers need to "take the risk".

The new law may encourage "timewasters who buy something on a whim or use it for what it's designed for then send it back to abuse the process", Gorman said. He added it is unfair that traders still have to bear the cost of the original postage of goods to customers, even if those goods are then returned.

However, Gorman applauded the dropping of the measure to force traders to sell across the continent and cover return postage costs. "We're very pleased that those two very misguided ideas have been dropped," he said. "It would have been a huge burden for small businesses, especially those that have made a niche for themselves just in the UK."


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