Throughout the EU, sellers must indicate product prices clearly enough for you to easily compare similar products and make informed choices – no matter how they're packaged or how many units are sold together.
Companies are legally obliged to be completely clear about the price you'll have to pay when they advertise or sell something to you.
Complete price information
The price quoted in an offer must include all taxes and delivery charges. If there might be extra costs that can't be calculated in advance, you must also be told about that upfront.
Taxes and charges must be included in the total price
Stefaan, from Belgium, found some very cheap flights to Spain on an airline website. However, after he completed the online booking, the final price had doubled – including various surcharges that had not been mentioned at any stage of the booking process.
Stefaan contacted the customer service department and was told the initial price was indicative. However, a call to the Belgian consumer centre confirmed that, although airlines are indeed entitled to charge extra for things like luggage or in-flight meals, these should be indicated from the start (along with all other additional charges, taxes, etc). Extra costs which are not optional, such as administrative or payment fees, should always be included in the initial price.
The airline in question now clearly indicates all price supplements at the start of the booking process.
When something is advertised as “free”, you cannot be obliged to pay anything other than the cost of:
- responding to the advert
- collecting the item or having it delivered
Easy comparison – price per unit
You should also be able to compare prices between brands and between package sizes – to see, for example, what saving you'd make buying a large-size box of breakfast cereal instead of a small box.
To help you do this, all products must be marked not only with the selling price, but also the price per unit – for example, the price per kilo or per litre. This information must be understandable, easy to read, and easily identifiable.
This rule also applies to adverts that mention a selling price.
Check the unit price of the product you're buying
Nadine lives in Luxembourg close to the German border with her 5 month old daughter. To try and save money, she started to compare the price of nappies in different shops both in Luxembourg and across the border in Germany.
She found a German seller offering packs of the same nappies she buys in Luxembourg for the same price she normally pays. Looking more closely at the unit price, however, Nadine realised that the German packs contained 140 nappies, whereas the packs in Luxembourg had only 90, making them much more expensive. She switched straight away to buying all her nappies from the German shop.
The following are examples of goods to which the unit pricing rules might not apply – because indicating a unit price might cause confusion, or because of the particular nature or purpose of the goods:
- products sold in vending machines
- goods sold at auctions
- artworks and antiques
Misleading price reduction claims
Price reduction claims such as “was € 50, now € 25” can be misleading if the initial
selling price (known as “anchor price”) has been inflated. In all EU countries traders
are obliged, when offering a discount, to indicate the lowest price applied to the
item at least 30 days before the announcement of the price reduction.
This information allows you as a consumer to assess whether the discount is genuine or not.
Don't get fooled by discounts
Basia from Poland was browsing through an online store during her train journey home from work. She came across a pair of expensive designer jeans that she liked a lot. She added them to her shopping cart, but decided to delay purchase until the sales. Two weeks later, she revisited the online store to make the purchase, only to be unpleasantly surprised. The original price indicated alongside the very attractive ‘discounted’ price was actually higher than the price quoted two weeks before the sales. Disappointed, Basia did not buy the jeans.
Under EU rules, you must be able to assess whether the discounted price is actually a good deal, as sellers must indicate the lowest price that they charged for the discounted item in the last 30 days.
Price discrimination is not allowed
As an EU national, a trader cannot charge you more when you buy a product or service just because of your nationality or country of residence. Some price differences can be justified if they're based on objective criteria and not just on nationality. For example, differing postage costs may mean you pay more for delivery in one country than in another. However, traders may still set different net sale prices in different points of sale, such as shops and websites, or may target specific offers only to a specific territory within a Member State. Under EU rules, all these offers must be accessible for consumers from other EU countries.
However, there is no possible justification for differences in access to goods or services for customers from different EU countries in the following three situations:
- sale of goods without physical delivery – for example, if you buy something online that you will collect from a shop, rather than have it delivered to your home
- sale of electronically supplied services (excluding copyright protected content) – such as cloud computing services, or website hosting
- sale of services provided in a specific location – for example hotel bookings, car hire, tickets for entry to theme parks
Where a trader has several country versions of the same website, such as a webshop selling products to different countries across the EU, you should be able to choose to view which version you visit. You must give your permission to be redirected to a specific country version of the website. You should also be able to change your choice at any time.
Retailers can use algorithms to track your online browsing behaviour preferences and to set prices accordingly. The aim is to price items based on what you would be willing to pay for a particular item. This practice is not illegal, however as a consumer you are entitled to complete price transparency.
In line with EU rules, traders are obliged to inform you whether the price is personalised based on automated decision-making and profiling of your specific consumer behaviour.
You have a right to know
Ana from Romania regularly browses her favourite online shops, checking prices of various items, regardless of whether she is going to buy them or not. Apart from price fluctuations, she also notices that the price change depending on the device she uses. More surprisingly, her friends see different prices when they check the same site at the same time, which confuses her even more.
According to EU rules, before making a purchase, you have a right to know if or when a trader uses an algorithm to change the price of the product you're interested in.