Monday, 25 April 2011

Statistics on online shopping in UK

Stuffed with all the delicious Easter food one of the few things I'm capable of doing tonight is searching the net for some interesting news and updates. One of the articles I found on BIZ Community website caught my interest since it relays how the trend to shop more online has grown in the past years in UK. I always like to find new statistics on that subject, since I believe digital transactions are still not getting as much attention as they should be and the regulation thereof is often unsatisfactory.

The survey of over 1000 consumers conducted by PwC showed that 14% of people buy online more that once a week nowadays, compared to only 4% in 2007. 60% of shoppers expect to spend more online in the coming 2-3 years. Why do more people choose for online shopping? Convenience - is the main answer (80%). You don't need to frantically look for shops that will be open in your neighbourhood when you are done with work, and other activities, you can just power on your computer. Another factor is that you don't need to move from one shop to another to find the best deal - again, your computer screen will show you many options and make it easy to choose the best one. It's interesting to observe that among people who use internet often and with ease to conduct online shopping, 20% thereof are over the age of 55. This means that it slowly stops being a domain of younger people.

You may read the PwC report over here.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Confusion as a permanent state of being for an English consumer?

Anna Tims wrote an interesting article for The Observer: "Are you entitled to a refund when the item you've bought is faulty?". In this article you may find her commenting on the mess that the mix of English and European laws on consumer sales causes for an English consumer. She also discusses negative effects that the introduction of the new Consumer Rights Directive might contribute to in England. The article finishes with a short 'know your rights' section in which the most important in practice rules are mentioned that might help the English consumers (ever-confused with the complexity of legal rules and rights).

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Optional instrument more of an option with every day.

The creation process of the European Contract Law as an optional instrument continues with the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee approving yesterday a report that favours this option. The European Commission presented a few options that would allow to achieve a more coherent approach to European contract law in its Green Paper (discussed previously on this blog). One of the options was to introduce an optional instrument that would be an alternative to national contract laws, an alternative that parties to a contract could freely choose instead of national laws. It would most likely apply only to cross-border transactions, and would have to guarantee a sufficient level of consumer protection to be attractive. Now, Diana Wallis, a member of the EP, prepared her own report on policy options for progress towards a European Contract Law in which she favors the optional instrument. The European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee voted overwhelmingly in support of that draft report.

Press relese may be found here.
Procedure file may be found here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Still not enough…

Passenger rights – still not enough enforcement? That’s a problem which must be tackled by the Commission. To this end a series of measures to clarify and strengthen the enforcement of passenger rights legislation (so consumers can more effectively access their rights and industry has more certainty and a level playing field across the EU) play an important role in the Commission agenda. What exactly? A dialogue with stakeholders with a view to revising the EU's air passenger rights Regulation 261 – with a proposal from the Commission in 2012. No doubt that’s an ambitious plan. The review would look to clarify, in particular, key issues such as limits for liability in case of extraordinary circumstances, compensation thresholds, effective re-routing of passengers, shared risk between operators in the supply chain and other issues where there are weaknesses, including protection in the case of mishandled luggage or re-scheduled flights. Interested in more information, please click here.

Would you like a cookie?... Now imagine you have a cookie: would you like to give it back?

I mentioned before on this blog (Delete cookies?!) that changes are imminent as far as data privacy online is concerned. The deadline for implementation of the new EU laws changing ePrivacy Directive is at the end of May and it will require consumers' consent to placing any cookies on his computer. The question was how to let consumers to freely, uninterruptedly use internet, while at the same time have them protected from breach of their privacy. One idea that I had mentioned was to have a pop-up window appear on the screen via which consumers would get a choice to agree to have their data collected and processed. Now, I don't know about you, dear readers, but I get a bit annoyed with pop-up windows and often just switch off the option for pop-up windows to open, at all. But if the consumers don't mind pop-up windows cascading on their computers while their browse the internet, that's actually an option that lets consumers make a decision whether to opt in into having their data shared. 

Being interested for a while now in consumer behaviour, it didn't surprise me when I read today in the news of a new idea how to fulfil the requirements of the privacy directive, an idea that would provide for an opt-out system. Well, it's a common behavioural knowledge that most consumers go with the default option provided to them... which would mean that most consumers would not opt out and still enable the companies to gather and process their data. What's the idea? An introduction of a behavioural ad privacy icon (Online Behavioral Advertising Framework). Such an icon would appear alongside or within any online ads targeted using behavioural data. Consumers would then have an option to click on it and opt out of having their information collected for such purposes.

IAB Europe is a coalition of European industry associations that support the initiative, together with many other representatives of industry and business (e.g. Federation of European Direct and Interactive Marketing, The European Association of Communication Agencies and the World Federation of Advertisers). Again, it's not surprising that industry and business support this initiative, since it would be likely to contribute to not much having changed in practice. Moreover, this system had been introduced in the USA, which means that there are already companies willing and able to provide the technology, which also means there are powerful parties who have a vast interest in supporting this idea.

As you can imagine I'm not a supporter of introducing an opt-out system, since I don't believe that would actually contribute to any increase in consumer protection. However, this initiative might be adjusted (and there are plans to do so) in such a way, that a consumer upon clicking on an icon might either choose to opt in or opt out, with no choice being made for him upfront. Now, if only the consumers had to click on that icon and if the fact that they do not click on it didn't mean that they chose to opt-out from the protection offered to them... wait, then we would again be talking about a system alike to pop-up windows. Funny, how that works.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Name the price... on regulation of end-user energy prices.

Yesterday the European Commission formally requested Italy, Poland and Romania to bring their national legislation on regulated end-user energy prices in line with EU rules.

What does that mean? The EU law promotes market self-regulation, which means that the prices for energy should be set based on supply and demand. If the prices for the end-users are set by that state, then on one hand you could argue that consumers should be safe from over-pricing due to any energy crisis that might happen, but on the other hand there is no possibility for the companies who are on the market to compete and to offer better deals to consumers. The market becomes underinvested, the prices end up being unnecessarily high, companies might not be willing to enter such a market which often leads to monopolistic situation. The consumers end up having limited choices or no choice at all when all the options look the same...

These three mentioned countries have been accused by the European Commission of not having complied with the EU law. E.g. Poland demands of energy enterprises to specify the end-user prices for gas and then to obtain a prior approval from the national regulatory authority for such prices. If after this formal notification, there will be no adjustment of national regulations, the case will be directed to the ECJ.

Press release - here.
More on internal energy market - here.

Monday, 4 April 2011


Do you like statistics? I assume that few people answer: yes:) Like them or not, statistics, e.g. delivered by Eurobarometer, prove to be interesting and useful. Recently two new Flash Eurobarometer reports were published. They regard consumer (retailers) attitudes towards cross – border trade and consumer protection. Let’s concentrate on what consumers think about distance shopping. - In the past 12 months, 37% of all EU consumers made a distance purchase on the Internet. The rest preferred purchases by mail orders and phone. Don’t you think that it is a bit surprising that so many people used the post/catalogues? - On the other hand, it is not surprising that there are large variations between countries with the overall level of distance shopping: 19% in Bulgaria to 74% (sic!) in Sweden. - And still almost half consumers (48%) said they were more confident when ordering goods or services via the Internet from sellers in their own country. Conclusion: there is still much room for improvement as far as the Internal Market is concerned. The whole text of reports may be found here. Luckily, complicated Eurobarometer analytical reports have “main findings” sections…and that makes them bearable:)

Public hearing on collective redress

Just a short note that tomorrow (Tuesday, 5 April as of 10.00) there is a public hearing on collective redress in Brussels. It will be webstreamed which means you may listen to it live (if you want to - click here). The agenda for the public hearing has been updated, too - find here.