EU-wide shopping from 3 December

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As of 3 December, companies selling products or services online will generally no longer be able to deny them to people – or charge more for them – on the basis of where the buyer lives in the EU.

That’s because rules against so-called “geoblocking” are kicking in, having been backed by politicians earlier this year.

“Consumers will have wider and easier cross-border access to products, hotel bookings, car rentals, music festivals or leisure park tickets,” the European Parliament said in a press release.

According to parliamentarian Róża Thun, who worked on the initiative, the new rules will give people ordering across borders many of the same rights as locals.

“Sometimes we might need to arrange for a parcel to be delivered with another delivery service provider, because the seller is not delivering the product to our country. However, the seller can no longer say to us: ‘I’m not selling this product to you because of your nationality, place of residence or location’,” she said.

A study carried out to support the rules found that 63 per cent of websites don’t let shoppers buy from another EU country at present. For household appliances, the figure was a whopping 86 per cent.

The rules won’t yet apply to copyrighted digital content, such as e-books, music or games, or audio-visual and transport services. A review, which has to take place within two years, will decide whether these products and services should also be included.

Sarah Ward and Charlotte Pham, lawyers working at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, said that companies will not be able to charge different prices to people in different countries via the same website. However, they will be able to charge different prices via different websites. They warned traders to start complying with the rules as soon as possible.

“Traders within the scope of the Regulations should take steps to assess whether their sales processes and trading terms and conditions include discriminatory elements prohibited by the Regulations, and revise them accordingly,” Ward and Pham said. “Can all EU customers access their website and complete an order?  Do the same terms and conditions apply regardless of the customer’s location?”

Coming in time for Christmas, the rules are bound to be put to the test from the moment they kick in.

Words: Craig Nicholson

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