The EU has recently concluded a number of sweeps of websites to check for, in the latest one, compliance with the Consumer Rights Directive (CRD), in particular pre-contractual information requirements. In addition to all EU countries they included Iceland and Norway as well.
Whilst email marketing companies were not specifically targeted, we all depend on our websites. There were variations in both the products sold and the size of companies. Regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, such sweeps are of interest.
The finding was that nearly two-thirds of sites were found to be non-compliant. Whilst this is of concern, it is hardly surprising. However, some of the biggest on-line retailers were found wanting.
The CRD requirements are clear enough, especially with regards to pricing and the recently changed rights the consumer enjoys of cancellation. Despite these being basic, 63% of sites had at least one failing.
Some of these sites did not include sufficient information as to whom the trader was. Quite remarkably the necessity of clear pricing information being displayed prominently, surely the most basic of all, was something that some sites had decided wasn’t necessary.
The relevant local regulatory authorities were informed of which companies had been found in breach of the CRD and they in turn contacted the owners of the sites, informing them of what their errors were. The vast majority took steps to ensure compliance but, remarkably, 83 companies failed to make the required changes. Legal action had been taken against them. This is a scale of prosecutions not seen before.
There was a remarkable variation of infringements from country to country. The French specialised in unauthorised health claims; 80% of websites checked including those without evidence to support. 70% of sites selling low cost airline tickets carried unfair and unclear pricing information.
Even the great were found wanting. In Germany, Amazon received a written warning with regards to it not being clear that pressing a button completed a chargeable order, and that there was no information at that point as to the price. This followed on from a higher regional court decision that the explanation on another button was again insufficient.
Given that the companies found at fault were allowed time to correct their non-compliance, you might feel that there is little to concern you. Failure to comply was the trigger for prosecution. So why bother? As long as you heed the warnings, everything will be fine.
You should be concerned. It is all too easy to transfer information that is in breach of legislation from a website onto an email marketing template. Poor standards tend to breed. You do not want complaints.
There has been a steady change in the nature of prosecutions, not only of websites but of email marketing as well. Where failures have been found before, prosecutions seemed to be viewed as a last resort. Over recent times, attitudes have changed and prosecution is much more common. This recent flurry is unprecedented and punishments have been severe. Four companies found in breech of the CRD have recently been fined a total of €500,000.