Online shopping in the EU increases despite legal barriers

The  European Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection has published a study on consumer behaviour in a digital environment that analyses consumer behaviour and the interaction between consumers and businesses online, examining how consumers benefit from the digital environment and whether and how they change their purchasing behaviour.

The study shows that the number of EU citizens shopping online has doubled to 40% from 20% in 2005. This is especially true for richer countries in the north and west of the EU, a division that can also be attributed to the level of Internet penetration across Europe.

The study identifies several barriers to e-commerce and consequently to an integrated European digital market. Among them is the fact that online shopping is predominantly geared towards the consumer’s domestic market (with only 23% of online purchases in 2010 being from a retailer in a different country). Moreover, there is no clear answer as to which legal code applies when consumers buy across borders, with platforms such as eBay raising complicated legal questions, as there are currently no laws on returning products for consumers-to-consumer sales.

In response the study recommends significant changes to the law, among them the harmonisation of the legal framework for e-commerce in order to increase trust in crossborder transactions, the improving of consumer awareness of current consumer protection in place, and the enhancing of dispute resolution processes by creating online dispute resolution systems.

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