Concerns only selling to final consumers, not to other businesses.
Distance selling — by mail, phone or internet — offers many advantages, but it also entails certain obligations under EU rules (Directive 2011/83) .
Which transactions are subject to these EU rules?
Sales contracts to consumers, concluded by organised distance selling, i.e. when you don't see your customer face-to-face, such as by:
- phone (with or without human interaction)
- standard letter,
Transactions not covered by these EU rules
- social & healthcare services
- financial, insurance & investment products
- real estate and rental accommodation (residential)
- passenger transport (apart from some specific cases covered by Directive 2011/83)
- contracts established by certain public officials, such as notaries
- food & drink supplied by regular delivery to a customer's home or workplace
- products sold in vending machines
What are your obligations?
- Giving advance information to customers before concluding the contract
- Sending customers written confirmation of the contract
- Allowing customers to withdraw from the contract
- Delivering your product/service and (if you are contracted to do so) providing after-sales services;
- Specific obligations (pre-ticked boxes, credit card charges, premium-rate phonelines).
Advance information for customers
Before concluding the contract with your customer, you should provide the following information, in clear and understandable terms:
- main characteristics of the product/service
- your identity, physical and email addresses and telephone number (if available)
- price of product/service - inclusive of all additional charges - taxes, delivery costs, etc.)
- arrangements for payment, delivery or performance, complaint handling
- charges to the customer to communicate with you when concluding the contract, if they are above the basic rate (e.g. premium rate call charges for contracts to be concluded over the telephone)
- conditions for the customer's right to withdraw, including:
- time limits and procedures
- the customer's obligation to pay for returning goods (and, for bulky goods, the cost of returning them, or at least an estimate (based on the delivery cost)
- the customer's obligation to pay for any services (or public utilities) supplied already during the withdrawal period (if they had asked for the services to be supplied immediately after concluding the contract and then decided to withdraw from the contract).
You can find sample texts showing you how to give information on withdrawal conditions in Annex I of Directive 2011/83 .
- any exceptions from the right of withdrawal (e.g. perishable goods) or acts that forfeit the right (e.g. unsealing a sealed DVD or CD)
- a reminder of the existence of a conformity guarantee for goods
- conditions for any after-sales service or commercial guarantees
- how to access any code of conduct that applies
- the duration of the contract and the conditions for terminating it, including any minimum duration of the customer's obligations
- conditions for any deposits or financial guarantees to be paid
- information on available out-of-court schemes for resolving disputes
- If you sell through a website, you must also state - at the latest at the beginning of the ordering process - information:
- whether delivery restrictions apply
- which means of payment are accepted.
How should you provide this information?
You must clearly and prominently indicate the main characteristics of the product total, price, duration and the conditions for terminating the contract and any minimum duration of contract - directly before the customer places their order.
Customers must also be given the opportunity to acknowledge that placing the order obliges them to pay - e.g. your order confirmation button must be labelled with words to the effect 'Order & pay'.
Sales by text message (and similar)
If the selling channel makes it technically difficult to give all this information - e.g. contracts concluded by mobile phone text message - you can give a limited amount of information (product's main features, your identity, total price, right of withdrawal, duration and the conditions for terminating the contract), and link to another source (e.g. a website) for the complete information list.
You must always disclose your identity at the beginning of the call and clearly state its commercial purpose.
Confirming the contract in writing
If you have not already provided the required information in writing on a durable medium (e.g. letter or e-mail) before concluding the contract, you must include this when confirming the contract.
The confirmation must be on a durable medium (letter, email, etc.), but you may also send the confirmation to a personal account that your customer has exclusive access to on your website
You must confirm the contract as soon as possible - at the latest on delivery of the goods of before the service begins.
When can your customer withdraw from the contract?
If you have given all the necessary information about the right to withdraw, your customer has 14 days to withdraw from the contract - without any penalty and without having to give any reason:
- for goods – this means 14 days after delivery.
- for services – this means 14 days after the contract was concluded.
In all cases the period is extended to the next working day if it ends on a weekend or public holiday.
If you failed to provide all the necessary information, the customer has 1 additional year to withdraw from the contract. If at some point during this 1 year period you do provide this information, the withdrawal period starts at that time.
If your customer withdraws from the contract…
You must reimburse the money received from them (or cancel their payment) within 14 days of being notified they are withdrawing.
You may withhold this reimbursement until you have received the goods back from the customer, or at least received evidence they have actually sent them.
Who pays what?
Customer - the cost of returning the goods (unless you failed to inform them of this in advance — in which case you will be liable for these costs).
Your business - you have to reimburse the original delivery costs - (but not any extra costs if the customer had chosen any more expensive (e.g. express) delivery option rather than standard delivery.
Before withdrawing, the customer can only examine the goods in a similar manner as if in a shop, allowing them to confirm the product is what they ordered and wanted
If the customer has actually used the goods before sending them back, you can claim compensation for the diminished value resulting from the use.
Withdrawing from services
If, at the customer's request, you have started performing the service ordered — e.g. installing an alarm system — before the expiry of the withdrawal period, and the customer then decides to withdraw, they must pay you for the services you provided up to that point.
When can't a customer withdraw?
The main exceptions to the rules on withdrawal are if the contract was for:
- a service you have already performed in full (with your customer's agreement) before the customer decides to withdraw
- perishable goods (e.g. certain foodstuffs)
- sealed goods that cannot be returned for hygiene reasons after being opened
- tailor-made products developed according to the customer's specifications or clearly personalised
- sealed media (audio recordings, video recordings or software) that the customer has removed from the packaging
- newspapers or magazines (but withdrawal from subscriptions is possible);
- holiday accommodation, car rental, catering or leisure services if you have committed to performing these services on a specific date or within a specific period).
Delivering the goods
Unless agreed otherwise in the contract, you must deliver the goods without undue delay no later than 30 days after the contract is concluded.
If you are unable to deliver within 30 days or the time agreed, the customer can request that you deliver within an additional period of time.
If you fail to deliver within this additional period, the customer may terminate the contract and ask to be reimbursed.
In cases where the specified delivery date is essential (e.g. a wedding dress), the customer can terminate the contract immediately.
You bear the risk of any damages to the goods during delivery, unless it was the customer who arranged the delivery and commissioned the carrier. You are always responsible for what happens to goods when they are being transported by a carrier you offered.
If you sell digital content such as music, video or software online, you must also inform customers about:
- interoperability of the content with relevant hardware and software
- functionality of the content - such as any geographical restrictions on use and whether private copies are allowed.
Once the customer starts accessing the content — by downloading, streaming or otherwise — they can no longer withdraw from their contract with you.
However you must first give them the opportunity to explicitly agree to this and acknowledge that they lose their right to withdraw as soon as they start downloading, etc.
And you must include a confirmation of this agreement and acknowledgement in the contract confirmation you send them.
It is illegal to infer the customer's agreement by using 'pre-ticked' boxes during the purchase process. Customers must always be given the possibility to agree explicitly to any additional payments, such as travel insurance when booking a flight.
Fees for payment
If you wish to charge the customer for using a specific means of payment — e.g. a credit card — the fee cannot be higher than what it actually costs you to process the payment. In some countries such fees may actually be banned altogether.
After-sales communication by telephone
If you provide a telephone hotline for customer queries/complaints about contracts, you must make sure the calls are charged at the basic rate for regular calls.
You cannot use premium-rate telephone lines for this purpose.