The article about Consumer Confidence in the Digital Environment, published in European Voice
||A Czech consumer bougth a plasma TV set from a German webtrader at an internet auction. He paid the requested amount in advance to the webtrader´s bank account including the transport costs (79 Euro). But the trader suddenly demanded an extra 45 Euro for delivery to the Czech Republic.
|[ 19. února 2007 | Autor: ]|
Though he protested against the supplementary charges he paid in order to avoid problems. A German client bought clothes totalling 300 Euro from a UK trader. When he discovered it was another size than he ordered, he returned the jacket following the instructions of the trader but didn´t received a refund of money (in fact he has the right to change his mind within 7 days). Those are just two examples of breaking consumers rights in the European Union – in the first case the trader put additional charges, in the other one the cooling off period was not respected. Both examples show problems with shopping on-line, but generally we may say that many consumers are still not aware of their rights which is crucial for a good operation of the internal market. The EU gives the possibility for traders to sell across all „27 markets“, but we also have to protect our citizens interests; they have to know their consumers rights, how to use them and how to take the informed decision.
The Consumers Defence Association of the Czech Republic (SOS) together with European Commision are running a project called „Insist on your rights“, which informs Czech consumers about their rights and the acquis in this area; thanks to this campaign the number of claims increased of more than 100 % since the last year (15494 claims in 2005, 34223 in 2006) – that means Czechs are more aware of their rights than before the campaign. The consumer organisations also point out the most serious problems of the consumers to the decision-makers (so we know e. g. a half of the czech sellers don´t inform the consumers about the right of withdrawal from the contract in two weeks time). I took part in several projects, mainly those concerning the e-confidence – also due to the fact that I prepare the report on consumers confidence in the digital environment for the European Parliament. Together with the BEUC (European Consumer´s Organisation), I also launched the European declaration of consumers rights in the digital environment in 2005. The truth is that Europeans are more and more getting used to shop on-line, but they don´t trust enough to buy goods cross-border. The EU has to answer the high-speed progress in the IT sector and change the fact, that different national legislatives block the effectiveness of the internal market. Only a self-confident consumer, who is fully aware of his/her rights, can force the European competitiveness because he will constantly look for the optimal business transaction regardless borders – and consequently the best and most innovative sellers will profit from such situation. I´ve proposed to launch an e-confidence initiative which would concentrate on solving horizontal problems common for various areas of the new technologies. Together with tackling the long-stand obstacles of the to e-trade (as the language barriers), some brand new complications such as the rejected acces to cross-border commerce (for example the PayPal systém restricts the scope of its services for some member states, the on-line music shop iTunes is accesible only for the EU-15 etc.) have appeared and we, European decision-makers, are obliged to work on solving them.
It seems that the consumers from the new member states face much more problems in cross-border commerce – the old member states are a bit more used to the cross-border transactions and the traders are also more willing to sell their goods within the EU-15. We have to think about the fact that most of the new member states are former communistic regimes which means that people are used to be afraid to claim their rights – that is what we have to teach them beyond improving the quality of on-line communications and increasing the reliability and safety of e-commerce. Maybe we should start with the youngest generation: in June I will invite a group of middle school students to the European Parliament – winners of a contest in which they are working on various consumers-oriented projects (until now they´ve found out that not only consumers but also sellers don´t know the consumers legislation). The consumers confidence and awareness is not only desirable but also needed because a good informed consumer who knows how to claim his/her rights would help in better implementation and enforcment of the consumer protection laws.