What to check when shopping online after Brexit

Buying on eBay and other online marketplaces may require extra attention after Brexit if the transactions involve the UK and a country of the European Union.

Customs duties and other taxes may be applicable if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and current consumer protections may not be guaranteed.

These changes concern an important volume of trade. Almost two thirds (64%) of small and medium-sized enterprises trading on eBay in the UK have exported products internationally in the past 12 months, reports the online platform. And Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands are among the top 10 markets for money spent. Similarly, the UK is an important market for businesses based elsewhere in the EU.

In a recent survey, the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) found that in the past two years 72% of consumers in Ireland bought online from a company based in the UK. Of these, 40% returned some of the goods, in most cases because the products did not fit or suit their needs or because they had changed their mind. These rights are guaranteed under EU law.

“When you buy online from an EU-based business, there are protections which ensure that you have the opportunity to change your mind and also you have very strong consumer rights if something goes wrong, for example if you don’t get your items delivered. When the UK leaves the EU, these protections will no longer be guaranteed when buying from UK-based retailers,” said Isolde Goggin, chair of the CCPC.

What will change after Brexit?

Under the EU Consumer Rights Directive, when buying from a business in the European Economic Area, customers have the right to cancel the order within 14 days of delivery and receive a refund within a certain timeframe. There are also rules on the minimum legal guarantee to protect against faulty goods.

If a product is not delivered or is faulty, and the complaint against the seller cannot be resolved, shoppers can use the European Consumer Centre (ECC), a network of support services that can intervene on their behalf. In this case, a national contact point will raise the issue with the counterpart in the country where the business is based, and this will help solve the problem with the business in question.

Another option is the European Small Claims Procedure, which is designed to simplify cross-border claims of up to €5000 and is available if both consumer and business are in an EU member state.

These redress options will no longer be available in the event of no deal Brexit, and otherwise depend on the new trade relationship between the UK and the EU.

If something goes wrong when shopping online, consumers can also take legal action. But having a judgement enforced across the UK border may become more difficult after the UK leaves the EU.

“There will no longer be reciprocal obligations on the UK or EU countries to investigate breaches of consumer laws or take forward enforcement actions,” says a notice by the British government.

Businesses and consumers will no longer be able to use the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform, an EU website linking consumers with Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) providers in the EU, adds the note.

Consumer organisation Which? specifies that “even though many of the rules relating to consumer rights are based on EU directives, most are also enshrined in UK law,” so they won’t change immediately. Some businesses may even decide to continue trading under present conditions.

In general, EU consumers shopping online in the UK and UK consumers shopping online in the EU are likely to continue enjoying similar rights after Brexit, but under separate law and jurisdiction. Anything that involves disputes or cooperation across borders will become more complicated. Over time, as EU legislation keeps evolving, it is also likely that EU and UK rules will diverge.

In addition, depending on the future trade relation, online shoppers may be required to pay certain taxes and duties, such as customs duty, excise duty and VAT.

What to check when shopping online

In its Brexit guidance, the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission makes a series of recommendations that are applicable in all countries.

The CCPC advises to check where the business is located (without relying on the domain name of the website) before buying. It also suggests to read carefully the terms and conditions, especially clauses concerning return policies, order cancellations, cost of returns, import charges and VAT, and which jurisdiction is responsible of resolving disputes.

The prospect of higher costs, fewer rights and more difficult enforcement, however, may impact consumer confidence when buying goods or services crossing the UK border. The CCPC survey reveals that, as a result of Brexit, only 25% of Irish customers who have bought online from the UK will not change their shopping habits, while 31% intend to buy more from other EU countries and 25% plan to focus more on the national market.

The European eCommerce & Omni-Channel Trade Association (EMOTA) warned that Brexit will require “far reaching” adjustments for online sellers, from reviewing websites with different consumer information to dealing with more cumbersome customs and shipping procedures.

For as much as consumers can prepare, Brexit risks having a serious impact for e-commerce, a sector worth 540 billion euros per year and a “significant component of the trade relations between the EU27 and the UK,” says EMOTA.

The EU and the UK agreed new trade arrangements on December 24 2020. The new deal affects online shopping in relation to duties, VAT and consumers’ protection. More details are available here.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay.