Online consumer protection is getting stronger

The new commitments must be respected by EU e-commerce merchants since May 28, 2022. What adjustments need to be made to their online store to stay in shape?

There have always been misleading marketing practices, but digital has made some of them easier to proliferate. Let us mention in particular:

  • Frequent price adjustment, sometimes even automatically based on algorithms, which is perfectly legal, unless the consumer has secured a good deal by posting a cross-referenced price that has never been used on the website, or that has been in effect only for a short time in relation to the term of the “promotional offer.” “;
  • consumer reviews, published in large numbers, which are not actually written by actual buyers of these products, but generated by bots, communications agencies or the seller itself;
  • Featured offers in search results regardless of the search query.

In 2019, the European legislator wished to better protect the consumer from some misleading practices, facilitating the latter’s contact with the seller, before and after the sale.

A package of measures was voted on in the form of Directive 2019/2161 known as Omnibus. Member states had to convert this directive into national law before November 28, 2021 (many late, like France, Luxembourg and Belgium), to have it come into force everywhere in the EU on May 28, 2022 Among these new commitments:

Price cut ads

A new rule applies (online, but also in physical stores): when he wishes to report a price reduction, the seller is now obligated to explicitly indicate the price he was charging himself before. The reference period is now the lowest price in the 30 days before the price cut.

If it is already forbidden to make people believe in a discount by referring to the price exercised by a competitor or the selling price recommended by the manufacturer as a reference price, then the new regulations impose, in addition, an earlier reference period of at least 30 days, while this was The duration is previously unclear (it should have only mattered in relation to the reduction period).

So it is no longer possible to sell a pair of shoes at €90, then go to €120 for one week, then offer €60 for the next two weeks with a sticker showing -50%. From now on, in this example, the label should be -33%. No more asking about just the red “Promotional offer: €60” sign.

This regulation affects physical commerce, but more so on the Internet due to the prevalence of promotional operations among e-retailers, as well as the development of the business model of temporary sales and dropshipping. It will become increasingly difficult to change labels frequently while (wrongly) advertising beneficial price cuts. But on the other hand, it will generate more confidence from the consumer, who some are tired of fake deals. This transparent rule should lead to fairer competition among e-merchants.

Most Member States have activated in their national legislation the possibility, when further reducing prices gradually (succession of price cuts, for example – 20%, then -30%, then -40%), to be able to indicate the previous price before the first price cut. Exceptions can also be made for products that are liable to spoil or expire quickly.

False consumer opinions

A new obligation is weighing on the seller (or the market that publishes these reviews): the latter must bring to the attention of the Internet user information that will enable him to determine whether he guarantees that the published reviews come from consumers who have already used or purchased the product.

The following are considered unfair business practices (which is now clear, even if some case law previously held in this direction):

  • claim that product reviews are provided by consumers without taking reasonable and proportionate steps to verify that they are indeed from consumers;
  • Sending or instructing a natural or legal person to send false reviews or recommendations to consumers or misrepresent consumer opinions in order to promote products.

Remember, too, that a professional should refrain from writing an opinion about a product or service being sold by a competitor, even if they have already bought it (an exercise of underestimation).

Virtual gondola ends

If, after a query relating to a criterion (or term) chosen by the Internet user, the website returns a ranking of results that does not fully respect that criterion, it must explicitly indicate this (case for example a view marked in the first positions, above the gondola, because the company The manufacturer gives the seller a back-margin for this offer to be featured in an internal search result without taking into account the criteria or terms written by the internet user). It should also be noted that, according to the principle of transparency of commercial communications, the website must inform the consumer of any advertisement.

Phone numbers in legal notices and on social networks

There are still other new commitments that came into effect on May 28, 2022, some of which apply specifically to the markets. This article is intended to provide information of interest to most online professionals, and our fourth point of interest will be related to legal notices: it is now mandatory to indicate the professional’s phone number, as well as an e-mail address. The legislator actually wanted to facilitate direct communication between the buyer and seller, and opposed case law that had been established that a phone number was not mandatory if the seller offered other means. This information must appear with other legal notices on any professional website (commercial or not), as well as on any social network profile pages.

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