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Online shopping: cross-border deliveries found reliable but few traders sell abroad in the EU

 Have you been tempted by a cheaper online offer from another EU country but wondering how reliable it is to shop from abroad? ‘Mystery shoppers’ from the EU-supported European Consumer Centres’ Network have checked just that. Their report (State of the e-Union) shows the results of 305 purchases in 28 countries. Delivery from abroad has turned out to be reliable overall, with 94% of orders delivered (up from 66% in 2003) and only 1% of the products found to be faulty. But shoppers had more problems when returning the goods (as part of the EU-wide cancellation rights), for example with getting the full costs reimbursed. Also, 60% of websites initially selected for the check as friendly to cross-border sales actually presented problems (e.g. with delivery, payment and language options) which made them unsuitable for online shoppers from other EU countries. The exercise confirms the European Commission’s own earlier findings. Before the end of 2011, the Commission will outline its vision and action plan on how to help EU consumers make the most of e-commerce opportunities.

Health and Consumer Commissioner John Dalli said: “It is important for consumers that, once they place an order, the delivery of the products bought online from another EU country is reliable and that, when things go wrong, consumers have easy access to effective redress across Europe. There are still barriers that limit consumers’ choice and undermine confidence in the Single Market. I am determined to continue the work to abolish them”

Key findings

Mystery shoppers in 17 European Consumer Centres1 made a total of 305 online purchases from foreign EU-based traders in 28 countries. The products were then returned in line with ‘cooling-off’ rules (which allow online shoppers to send the product back without giving any particular reason and get a full refund). A summary of key findings is below:

  • Delivery: 94% of the products were delivered, up from 66% in 2003 (when ECC-Net last did a similar exercise). This confirms the Commission’s March 2011 findings (see IP/11/280) suggesting that delivery for cross-border purchases within the EU is as reliable as for domestic ones or even more (with the product not arriving in 5% of cross-border cases compared with 6% of domestic orders).

  • Products: only 1% of products were faulty (e.g. a book with a damaged cover) or different from what was ordered (e.g. wrong colour).

  • Returning products and reimbursements: When shoppers returned the products under the ‘cooling-off’ rules, the product cost was reimbursed in 90% cases. However, 57% of shoppers had problems getting reimbursed for the original delivery costs, as required under EU rules. Also, some traders placed illegal restrictions on returning the goods (e.g. by telling the shoppers that they had no such right). Under EU rules, consumers can cancel an online order for any reason within at least 7 days from receiving it (more in some countries), and send it back to the seller (though they may have to pay the cost of shipping the product back).

  • Website friendliness to cross-border sales. The foreign websites were originally preselected based on a set of minimum criteria for ‘cross-border friendliness’ (such as the willingness to sell abroad as well as payment and language options). But in practice 60% of these sites presented difficulties which made them unsuitable for online shoppers from other countries (e.g. because the delivery to the consumer’s country was not in fact possible). A 2009 EU Commission study (see IP/09/1564) also found that 60% of cross-border online orders were refused.

The full report can be found at:

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