EU breaks e-commerce location barriers

Online retailers within the EU are no longer allowed to refuse to sell to consumers in other member states because of their location, due to a new law that has just come into force.

The MEP behind the legislation says the timing of the new rules will offer consumers more choice when doing their Christmas shopping.

The law, passed by the European Parliament last February, bans so-called ‘geo-blocking’, which had previously seen some online stores refuse a sale to a customer because they are based in another country.

The European Commission conducted research that found that almost two-thirds of websites (63%) do not let shoppers buy from another EU country.

Geo-blocking was highest for electrical household appliances (86%), while reservations of leisure activities such as sports event tickets (40%), were subject to the most geo-blocking of any services.

However, those hoping the new regulations will open up access to foreign-based streaming services and content such as the BBC iPlayer will be disappointed, as the legislation stops short of removing the regional restrictions on media.

Instead it is envisaged the new regime will make it easier for consumers to access products, hotel bookings, car rentals, and concert and leisure tickets in other countries within the EU.

The legislation was steered through the European Parliament by Polish MEP Róza Thun, who described the development as “another step forward in creating a true single market where all consumers are treated equally”.

“When buying products abroad, all of us will now have the right to be treated like local consumers,” said Ms Thun.

“We can no longer be denied access to the sale of goods and provision of some services. Sometimes we might need to arrange for a parcel to be delivered with another delivery service provider, because the seller is not delivering the product to our country. However, the seller can no longer say to us: ‘I’m not selling this product to you because of your nationality, place of residence, or location’.”

While digital copyrighted content such as e-books, downloadable music, or online games will not be covered by the new rules the European Commission will review the ban on geo-blocking within two years.

This will assess whether the ban should be widened to include this content, as well as audio-visual and transport services.

The commission said the new rules “will enable consumers to have a wider choice of products at competitive prices and consequently better deals”, while also being good for business.

“Together with the end of roaming charges, the new rules on data protection and the possibility for citizens to travel with their online content, the end of unjustified geoblocking is another essential initiative that makes the Digital Single Market a reality for all, delivering concrete benefits to citizens and businesses,” said a joint statement on behalf of commissioners.

“At the same time businesses will see their customer base expand across borders and enjoy lower transaction and administrative costs.

“The regulation is also part of a wider EU effort to boost e-commerce in the single market, which includes measures to better protect consumers online, ensure more affordable cross-border parcel delivery and simplify Vat rules to make it easier to buy and sell goods online,” read the statement.

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