Disputes in the e-commerce landscape: additional obligations for e-commerce traders!

Analyse In order to boost confidence in online transactions the European Union (EU) provides an alternative online dispute resolution mechanism that enables consumers and traders to resolve disputes in a fast and efficient manner.

Consumers increasingly make purchases online and an increasing number of traders sell online. 

In order to boost consumer confidence in carrying out transactions online the European Union (EU) legislator found it essential to resolve disputes in a fast and efficient manner.

Within the current legislation on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) the EU wants to provide a reliable and efficient online dispute resolution (ODR) mechanism.

Regulation 524/2013 of the European parliament and the Council of 21 May 2013 on online dispute resolution for consumer disputes (hereinafter: “ODR Regulation for consumers”), entering into force on 9 January 2016, provides an online dispute resolution platform (hereinafter: “ODR platform”) that is available for use as of 15 February 2016.

The ODR platform aims to dismantle existing barriers between traders and consumers in their search for an out-of-court resolution of contractual disputes arising from online sales and service contracts.

This ODR Regulation for consumers is binding and directly applicable in all Member States and does not need to be transposed into national legislation.

1.  This Regulation offers one single point of entry for the entire European Union through a procedure via an ODR platform:

  • The consumer or trader fills in an online complaint form and submits it. This complaint can be submitted in one of the 23 official languages of the institutions of EU. The complainant party may attach documents in support of the complaint.
  • The complaint is sent to the relevant trader, who proposes a national ADR entity out of a list of qualified entities to the consumer.
  • Once consumer and trader agree on an ADR entity to handle their dispute, the ODR platform transfers automatically the complaint to that entity that informs the parties of its procedural rules and costs.
  • Unless if it is a very complex case, the ADR entity shall handle the case entirely online and reaches an outcome in 90 calendar days.

2. Each trader based in the EU engaging in online sales or service contracts and each online marketplace based in the EU in their relationship with consumers shall:

  • Provide on their website an electronic link to the ODR platform that is easily accessible, namely: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/odr/index_en.htm; and
  • State their e-mail address on their website so that a consumer can contact a trader in order to reach an amicable solution on their dispute.

3.  Traders which commit themselves or that are obliged pursuant to statutory or regulatory provisions to use one or more ADR entities to resolve disputes with consumers (e.g. Travel Disputes Committee, Building Conciliation Commission, Federal Ombudsman) shall:

  • Inform consumers about the existence of the ODR platform and the possibility of using the ODR platform for resolving their disputes;
  • Provide an electronic link to the ODR platform on their websites;
  • Provide an electronic link to the ODR platform if the offer is made by e-mail, in that e-mail;
  • Provide an electronic link to the ODR platform in the general terms and conditions applicable to online sales and service contracts.

This Regulation should be considered in conjunction with Directive 2013/11/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for consumer disputes that is already transposed into Book XVI of the Belgian Code of Economic Law.

Important note: an out-of-court settlement over the complaint is only possible if all the parties agree on an ADR entity to handle their dispute. If no agreement is found, the complaint will be automatically closed and parties will have to seek other means, either by court proceedings. However, the ODR platform encourages and facilitates a fast and flexible out-of-court resolution of disputes.

In any event traders must take into account these additional obligations as described above, since Member States are obliged to provide rules on penalties applicable to infringements of this new legislation.