When you sell a good or a service to a consumer online or via other means of distance communication (by telephone, mail order) or outside a shop (from a door-to-door salesperson), the consumer has the right to return the item or cancel the service within 14 days. This is sometimes referred to as the cooling-off period or the withdrawal period. No reason or justification has to be given by the consumer.
EU law also stipulates that you must give the consumer a minimum 2-year guarantee (legal guarantee) as a protection against faulty goods, or goods that don't look or work as advertised. In some countries national law may require you to provide longer guarantees.
After-sale responsibilities/faulty products
If the product you sold turns out to be faulty — or doesn't look or work as advertised — within the timeframe of the legal guarantee, you are responsible for this. In some countries this can also be the case if you are the manufacturer or importer.
When can your customer claim redress?
Be aware that you are legally bound by any public statements you make about your products, especially through advertisements or on labels.
If you are a retailer, your customers can ask for redress under the legal guarantee provided by EU law - if an item:
- doesn't match the product description
- has different qualities from the model advertised or shown to the client
- is not fit for purpose - either its standard purpose or a specific purpose ordered by the customer which you accepted
- doesn't show the quality and performance normal in products of the same type
- wasn't installed correctly - either by you, or by the customer, due to shortcomings in the instructions
If you inform your customer that the product you are going to sell has quality problems, they cannot then claim redress from you about this particular defect.
What can your customer claim?
Your customers have the right to ask you to do any of the following without any charge (for postage, labour, material, etc.):
- repair the product
- replace the product
- reduce the price
- cancel the contract and reimburse them in full (in some countries, the sales contract cannot be cancelled if the fault is minor, e.g. scratch on a CD case)
Repair or replacement
In most countries there is a "hierarchy of remedies". This means that your customer must firstly request that you repair the product, or replace it if repair is not a viable option (e.g. too expensive). You must do this within a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience for your customer.
Price reduction or full refund
Another option for your customer is that you give them a price reduction or a full refund, but only if repair or replacement:
- is not possible
- would be too expensive, given the nature of the product/defect
- would be very inconvenient for the customer
- cannot be completed by your business within a reasonable time
You can also offer the consumer an additional commercial guarantee (warranty). This can either be included in the price of the product or at an extra cost. This warranty does not replace the legal guarantee, which is always a minimum of 2 years, and you must inform the consumer that this will not affect their right to the legal guarantee.
Implementation of legal guarantees and warranties in each country
Each EU country implements the rules slightly differently. You can read more about how you should implement the legal guarantees and warranties in each EU country via the link below.
Consumer Law Ready
Consumer Law Ready is an EU-wide programme, offering free training courses in consumer law for micro businesses and SMEs. You can apply to attend a training course in your country to ensure that your SME is Consumer Law Ready.
You may prefer to learn at your own speed, sign up to access the educational material. You can then complete an e-test and validate your learning with a certificate.
Check out the Consumer Law Ready portal to discover how you can sign up.