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Consumer Law Update: CCPC Launches Guide for Online Retailers

AUTHORs: Kate McKenna Services: Competition and Regulation DATE: 15/11/2018

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (“CCPC”) has recently launched a guide to assist businesses selling online to comply with their consumer law obligations.  The guide was published in conjunction with the results of a survey of the consumer law compliance of the online sales practices of over 200 companies.  

The survey identifies a number of consumer law provisions which do not appear to be fully understood and respected, although overall the survey indicates that there is a high level of compliance with fundamental consumer law obligations.

The CCPC survey and guide are available here.

Key Findings

The European Union (Consumer Information, Cancellation and Other Rights) Regulations 2013 (the “2013 Regulations”) provide for various consumer law rights, including 14 days as the minimum period which can be allowed for customers to request a refund.   The survey indicates a high level of compliance with the deadline, with 82% of companies allowing customers 14 days to request such a refund for any reason.  However, the survey identified the following widespread practices which appear out of line with the 2013 Regulations:

  • 61% of companies require customers to return goods within 14 days, in breach of the 2013 Regulations’ requirement to allow customers a further 14 days to return goods following the date on which the customer informs the company of the exercise of their cancellation right.
  • 67% of companies do not provide customers with a return form to facilitate returns, notwithstanding the 2013 Regulations provided that failure to provide information on the right to cancel and the relevant time limits and procedure automatically results in the deadline for exercise of the customer’s right to cancel being extended to 12 months.
  • 25% of companies change their cancellation policy for items on sale, notwithstanding that the 2013 Regulations equally apply to full-price and sale items.

Enforcement Activity

With the Christmas shopping season approaching, the CCPC is seeking to raise awareness of consumer law obligations while highlighting that this advocacy activity is “in addition to our enforcement activity.”  As such, companies operating in Ireland ought to take the opportunity to consider their dealings with consumers in light of the CCPC’s new guidance and what it implies about the CCPC’s enforcement priorities.

Indeed, recent practice by the CCPC’s counterpart in the United Kingdom, the Competition and Markets Authority (the “CMA”) further demonstrates the importance of ensuring online retails comply with consumer law obligations.  The CMA recently launched enforcement action against hotel booking sites, alleging a number of sites are engaged in misleading consumer practices.

While recent CCPC enforcement actions have largely focused on misleading practices in the car dealership industry, the CCPC’s willingness to bring criminal prosecutions in such actions as well as its new efforts in conducting a survey and publishing a guide for online traders demonstrates the CCPC’s commitment to the enforcement of consumer protections.  Businesses should carefully consider their trading practices, and in particular their approach to enforcing returns deadlines, to ensure that they are fully compliant and do not put the company at risk of CCPC enforcement action.

This article was co-authored by EU, Competition and Regulatory partner, Kate McKenna and EU, Competition and Regulatory associate, Simon Shinkwin.