EU makes it easier to shop online internationally

EU citizens are often stopped from making internet purchases from other countries. That’s because of geoblocking, which allows the online purchase to be made only in the buyer’s own country or a neighbouring country. The EU Parliament has decided to remove this limit, with the new regulation coming into force in nine months’ time.

Cross-border online shopping should become easier within the EU thanks to a regulation adopted by the European Parliament. In particular, the EU will ban geoblocking, which is widespread in internet retail. This procedure allows online retailers to refuse access to specific order pages if customers live in another country or use credit cards that are issued abroad. Often, they are then automatically redirected to sites in their own country, where prices may be higher. This mostly benefits the large online shops, which offer goods at different prices in different EU states.

Following the EU Parliament’s decision, customers can now freely choose where to shop online, regardless of their place of residence. Internet customers in other countries will now also benefit from the same terms and conditions that apply to local customers. This applies to the purchase of clothing and furniture, as well as services such as renting a holiday apartment or a rental car. Negotiators from the EU Parliament and the 28 EU states had already agreed on the new regulation, so the vote was the final step in enacting this legislation. The new regulation will enter into force in nine months’ time, i.e. towards the end of 2018.

Exceptions to the new rule

Copyrighted goods, such as films, music, or books are exempt from the new law. However, the EU Commission will review this exemption in two years’ time.

Julia Reda, EU member of the Pirate Party, criticised the regulation: “The error message ‘This content is not available in your country’ will continue to be part of everyday life in Europe, despite its utter incomprehensibility for consumers. This is because the new law completely excludes digital media content such as videos, computer games, music, and e-books, which therefore continue to stop at national borders. During the negotiations, the national governments successfully blocked any progress in this area.”

Some limits remain for online shopping

The SPD MEP Evelyne Gebhardt considers the new regulation to be positive. It effectively abolishes geoblocking, which online shoppers find “annoying and often unjustified”, she said, describing artificial digital borders as “incompatible with the European idea”.

According to a survey by the European Commission, almost two-thirds of all websites currently use geoblocking. They refuse to accept payment from another country or with foreign credit and debit cards.

However, there is still an obstacle to buying goods over the Internet. The affected companies in other EU countries have no obligation to deliver. If, for example, you buy an item of furniture or clothing from France online, you may have to pick it up yourself or organise the delivery via a forwarding agency. If the pressure from consumers is high enough, however, this obstacle will also be overturned, and the customer will be able to choose the product online at the best price within the EU.

More about online shopping here.



Image: seb_ra / istock


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