From 13 June 2014 the European Union’s consumer rights directive will take effect in Germany. For e-commerce consumers, there are important changes the right to withdraw from distance contracts. Here is a brief overview.
Right to withdraw
The European Union’s consumer rights directive seeks to establish harmonised rules within the EU concerning consumers’ rights in transactions.
Amongst the many changes, one important aspect is a modified right for consumers to withdraw from a distance contract.
This right of withdrawal applies from the moment the consumer receives the goods, or from the moment a contract for services is concluded, and lasts for fourteen days.
The 14 day time limit only begins to run if the seller provides the consumer with relevant statutory information concerning the right to withdraw. If this information is incorrect or not provided, the consumer can take their time in deciding whether to return the goods. This is because the time limit is extended to one year plus the original fourteen days; after that, the right to withdraw lapses.
To many online businesses in Germany, this represents an improvement to their position, as under current German law, if incorrect information is provided, the right to withdraw does not lapse, meaning that consumers have a perpetual right to withdraw until the correct information is provided.
Competition warning letters
Nevertheless, it is important that German e-commerce businesses provide the correct information to consumers. This is because competitors are entitled to send competition warning letters if they realise that there is a mistake in the information an online business provides.
If an online trader notices that they have made a mistake in the information they have provided to a consumer, they should correct the mistake and re-send the information. The 14 day deadline to withdraw, then begins to run as normal.