Today, on the 4th of October, the results of the research Mystery Shopping on e-trading carried out by the European Consumer Centres' Network (EEC network) will be published. 305 purchases from the internet shops over Europe were made in reality in the frame of the research with a purpose to inspect the operation of the cross-border e-trading from the viewpoint of consumer. Estonia was represented there by the European Consumer Centre acting under the Consumer Protection Board and it is a member of the EEC network since 2005.
The purpose of this research was to find out how confident can the consumers be when making the cross-border internet purchases, how do the e-traders meet the obligations arising from the law of European Union and if the purchases within Europe are possible regardless of the country of the consumer. During this research, the employees of European Consumer Centres made purchases as private persons really paying for the purchases in order to find out the real situation of consumers and the emerging problems. In addition to the practical purchase process, the typical conditions of all observed e-shops and compliance of the information presented to consumers with legal requirements were under observation.
Results of the research confirm that the situation of cross-border e-trading is considerably improved from the viewpoint of consumer – 94% of the goods ordered in the frame of the research reached the consumer in reality. However, the respective percentage was only 66 according to the similar research in 2003. Yet the results of this research demonstrated that the unified internal market of the European Union is still limited for a common consumer and only a part of traders are prepared to sell their goods to another country.
Many shortcomings were found in the information presented to the consumer before purchase. The price information was correct in 91% of e-shops. The business name of the trader could be easily found on 90% of the viewed home pages. In 8% of cases the name had to be sought more thoroughly and in 2% of cases the name could not be found. 12% of e-traders did not display any e-mail address to contact the trader.
Only 82% of e-shops informed about the legal right to withdraw from the contract and to reclaim the money for ordered goods. Unfortunately 20% of these e-shops gave incorrect information about the right of withdrawal that was not in compliance with the law. 37% of e-shops informed the consumers about the legal warranty. 74% of e-shops informed about the time of delivery of ordered and paid goods.
All goods ordered and delivered in the frame of this research were sent back to traders in order to find out how applies the legal consumer right to waive the goods without explanation and to get back the money. In 85% of cases the product was returned and reimbursed, in 9% of cases product was returned and not reimbursed, in 3% of cases the product was not delivered, but was reimbursed, and in 3% of cases the ordered and paid goods did not reach the consumer and the money was not repaid. Thus, the breach of obligations by the trader caused financial damage to 12% of consumers.
To sum it up, one can draw a conclusion that the cross-border e-shopping is not always possible even within the European Union because the differences between the country of the consumer and the country of the trader may restrict the trader's interest in the transaction. It is also remarkable that in more than 50% of the purchases the trader did not reimburse the delivery costs. Another important conclusion is that the e-shops do not always meet their obligations as they give only limited information about consumer rights before purchase and it may have negative consequences to the consumer. It primarily concerns the consumer's right to withdraw from the contract and to get back the money.
You can read the full research in English on the home page of the European Consumer Centre - http://www.consumer.ee/public/Mystery_shopping_report.pdf.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: The EEC network has the centres in all EU member states and also in Norway and Iceland. The centres of EEC network solve the consumer problems related to the purchase of goods and services from other member states. The work of the network is coordinated by the European Commission and the respective centre is also active in Estonia under the Consumer Protection Board.
Director of the European Consumer Centre of Estonia
Consumer Protection Board