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EU consumers cautious of shopping too far afield

BEUC report large

Are you wary of buying online from outside the EU? New research conducted by Brunel University's Dr Christine Riefa and consumer issues consultant Julie Hunter for The European Consumer Organisation BEUC suggests you’re not alone. 

Whilst global online sales continue to soar – they’re expected to rise from $1.6 trillion in 2016 to $4 trillion by 2020 – EU consumers remain distrustful of sellers outside of their borders.

To discover why, BEUC and German consumer group Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband commissioned analysis of shoppers’ experience when purchasing outside the EU.

Co-authored by  Julie Hunter and Dr Christine Riefa, Reader at Brunel Law School, the research suggests that a lack of information at the pre-purchase stage and difficulty getting redress when something goes wrong are the key drivers behind the caution.

Dr Riefa said: “Some consumers are happy to take a risk and buy from afar but by and large, EU consumers often only unknowingly buy from sellers situated beyond the borders of the union. 

“Information about seller location is not always clear or consumers can often not realise that different standards of protection apply. While in the EU, the consumer can return any goods bought online simply because they have changed their mind, such right is not available everywhere in the world. 

“When things go wrong, consumers can quickly find themselves without much recourse because the international legal framework, principally designed to cater for face-to-face relationships, has not yet adapted to the realities of electronic commerce and globalisation.”

To address this issue, the consumer groups behind the research suggest:

  • Making more information available to those shopping outside of the EU. This could take the form of a point of contact for those seeking guidance and advice.
  • Developing a means through which consumers can act when something goes wrong. This would require greater international cooperation and could include opening up the EU’s alternative dispute resolution system to traders from outside of the Union.

Julie Hunter said: "In the absence of a harmonised legal framework at an international level, it is vital that EU consumers are given clear information and independent advice so that they can make informed purchasing decisions. It is also essential that they can access effective forms of dispute resolution, at a global level, which can help them to resolve problems if things go wrong.

“EU and international governments and enforcement agencies must collaborate more effectively to ensure that consumers have adequate protection when shopping in global online markets."


Reported by:

Tim Pilgrim, Media Relations
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