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The European Union has been looking at ways in which to create a safer environment for online shoppers and this month has seen it release guidance for safe online shopping published within the Official Journal of the European Union.

The advent and the development of the internet has significantly changed how consumers shop and how businesses sell and advertise their goods and services. Generally, ecommerce has been a good thing for consumers, widening their choice and lowering prices. Ecommerce is now experiencing rapid growth and has the potential to be a positive addition to the growth objectives of the European Union.

However, this raid expansion of ecommerce has the potential to pose particular problems and challenges regarding the protection of the health and safety of consumers, end users and other stakeholders. These include:

(i) difficulties with regard to tracing products offered for sale online and identifying the responsible economic operators;

(ii) the increase in the number of economic operators located outside the territory of the EU offering products for sale online; this includes sales directly to EU consumers and other end-users, renders the enforcement of product rules challenging;

(iii) challenges in conducting risk assessments or safety tests due to the lack of physical access to products;

(iv) difficulties in sampling products for testing, as relevant laws in certain Member States do not permit purchases to be made online or anonymous purchases (such as mystery shopping);

(v) challenges in the application of Directive 2001/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on general product safety (General Product Safety Directive) as well as of Regulation (EC) No 765/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council setting out the requirements for accreditation and market surveillance relating to the marketing of products related to the online environment;

(vi) lack of awareness among consumers and businesses about buying and selling safe and compliant products online.

The new guidance is intended to contribute to a better understanding of EU product legislation and takes into account discussion with EU member state authorities and stakeholders that took place between 2013 and 2016.

Talking about the new guidance, Vera Jourova, EU Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, said, “With the new guidelines, national surveillance authorities will be able to check products bought online and ensure that all products sold in Europe are safe.”

“Improved product safety and compliance in e-commerce increases trust in online markets and leads to e-commerce development. Better enforcement also helps ensure a level playing field among economic operators in the traditional and online supply chains and among operators located in and outside the EU.”

Scott Bretton
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