In 2016, the European Commission launched a 3-prong initiative to grow total online sales within the EU by reducing existing barriers and pushing for cross border fluidity. It is called “Single Digital Market“.
Three key issues the European Commission’s proposal addresses are:
- Cross Border Delivery of Goods
- Consumer Protection/Unfair Commercial Practices
ONLINE SHOPPING WITHIN THE EU
Expats and internationals living in the Netherlands should be aware that they are able to purchase from retailers based in other EU countries (which offer shipping to the Netherlands) without any additional charges imposed, such as import duties. Not only does this expand the marketplace when shopping online, but it also makes it easier to find an English-language website to purchase from. Here in the Netherlands, the majority of retail websites do not offer an English-language option (even though over 90% of Dutch speakers understand English and English is a required language in Dutch schools).
There have been many developments in online retailing here in Holland over the past decade, but bi-lingual (Dutch/English) retail websites are still hard to find. For a non-Dutch speaker, this can make purchasing from a local website quite cumbersome. One usually has to rely on a translator app added to their browser which can be unreliable – it can only read raw text (none that is masked and none that is included within images) and translations can often be hard to understand. Plus browser translator apps usually only work on non-secure (http) web pages. This means even if the retail site has content that can be read, the connection switches to a secure connection during the checkout process, leaving the purchaser to muddle through the payment process.
A major problem with cross-border online shopping, is that a lot of smaller retailers (and many large retailers as well), do not offer shipping to another EU member country. This is surprising considering the free flow of goods is a key advantage of being an EU member. Retailers could certainly be earning more money simply by accepting orders from shoppers in other EU countries.
It also provides consumers with more choices and possibly better pricing. Because this is currently not the case, consumers in one location may be suffering location discrimination. The goal of the European Commission is to remove this type of consumer discrimination within the Union.
As mentioned above, the EC proposal to accelerate total online sales across the Union targets three current barriers…
Geo-Blocking is when a consumer living in one member state tries to access a business’ website in a different country and gets redirected back to the website for the country the person is living in. The consumer may have wanted to compare prices across member states in order to secure the best price. By being diverted back to the website for the country they are in, it basically discriminates against that consumer if a lower price is being offered by the same business in another member state. The proposal calls for a ban on geo-location diversion.
CROSS BORDER ORDER DELIVERY
Cross Border Delivery of Goods is often given as the reason why a retailer doesn’t want to offer delivery to other countries within the Union. In their research, the European Commission determined the actual additional shipping cost is far less than retailers are being charged by shipping companies and parcel forwarders. The EC proposal aims to increase regulatory oversight of parcel delivery service providers including greater price transparency of through the publication of domestic vs. cross-border shipping rates.
Greater Consumer Protection and enforcement of regulations against Unfair Commercial Practices is the third major initiative within the EC proposal. The EC determined during its research that while specific laws are already in place to protect consumers, there are not enough resources in place or authority given to enforce these protections when it comes to cross-border commerce. The proposed revisions to the current regulations will provide enforcement agencies in the EU member states with the authority and infrastructure to work across borders more quickly and efficiently to address unlawful online practices.