Online shopping is more popular than ever, with almost a fifth of all retail spending happening online last month. Brits are now buying things from all over the world and having them delivered to their front doors.
But if you’re buying from an online retailer in another EU country, our EU membership gives you particular protection as a consumer.
In 2011 the 28 members of the EU agreed the Consumer Rights Directive. The aim of this Directive is to provide the same high level of protection for consumers when buying anywhere in the EU, plus the three non-EU EEA countries, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This includes when we buy something online.
Under the Directive, businesses are obliged to provide certain information ahead of any sale, such as the identity, address and contact details of the business, the main characteristics of the goods, the total price including taxes and the duration of any contract (see Article 6).
We also have the right of withdrawal from the sale contract within 14 days from the day the product arrives (Article 9). Not everyone realises this. Moreover, if the business fails to provide information about the right to withdraw the buyer then has a 12-month window to back out of the sale contract.
Businesses cannot use a contact number which is expensive to call, nor charge consumers an additional cost for using a payment method above the costs incurred by the business.
The UK implemented its own Consumer Contracts Regulations (CCR) in line with the requirements of the EU Directive, bringing these strong protections for online shoppers into UK law. So when you get that comforting email acknowledgement containing all the information after paying, you can thank the EU.
Brexit doesn’t mean these rights will disappear overnight. However, there will be nothing to prevent a UK government – for example, made up of regulation-hating Brexiters – from removing them or reducing the obligations on businesses. It’s another example of the small, little-known rights we enjoy which are under threat from Brexit. That’s why we need a People’s Vote, and we need to know whether our future arrangement with the EU will keep the protections we enjoy as EU members today.