European Union - Direct MarketingEuropean Union - Direct Marketing
The EU has yet to adopt legislation harmonizing the direct-selling of consumer products. However, there is a wide-range of EU legislation that impacts the direct marketing sector. Compliance requirements are stiffest for marketing and sales to private consumers. Companies need to focus, in particular, on the clarity and completeness of the information they provide to consumers prior to purchase and on their approaches to collecting and using customer data. The following gives a brief overview of the most important provisions flowing from EU-wide rules on distance-selling and on-line commerce. In addition, it is important for exporters relying on a direct-selling business model to ensure they comply with member state requirements.
Processing Customer Data
The EU has strict laws governing the protection of personal data, including the use of such data in the context of direct marketing activities. For more information on these rules, please see the Data Privacy section above.
Distance Selling Rules
In 2011, the EU overhauled its consumer protection legislation and merged several existing rules into a single rulebook - “the Consumer Rights Directive”. The provisions of this Directive have been in force since June 13, 2014. The Directive contains provisions on core information to be provided by traders prior to the conclusion of consumer contracts. It also regulates the right of withdrawal, includes rules on the costs for the use of means of payment and bans pre-ticked boxes.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
In 2013, the EU adopted rules on Alternative Dispute Resolution which provide consumers the right to turn to quality alternative dispute resolution entities for all types of contractual disputes including purchases made online or offline, domestically or across borders. A specific Online Dispute Resolution Regulation, operational in January 2016, sets up an EU-wide online platform to handle consumer disputes that arise from online transactions.
In December 2015 the European Commission released a package of two draft Directives, respectively on “contracts for the supply of digital content” and another on “contracts for the online and other distance sales of goods.” This package addresses the legal fragmentation and lack of clear contractual rights for faulty digital content and distance selling across the EU. The package only addresses B2C contracts, although its scope uses a very broad definition of both digital content (including music, movies, apps, games, films, social media, cloud storage services, broadcasts of sport events, visual modelling files for 3D printing) and distance selling goods so as to cover Internet of Things (such as connected households appliances and toys). It also applies to transactions whether in the context of a monetary transaction or in exchange of (personal) consumer data. Healthcare, gambling and financial services are excluded. The package is currently under scrutiny at both the European Parliament and Council. Its adoption is expected the first half of 2017.
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Distance Selling of Financial Services
Financial services are the subject of a separate directive that came into force in June 2002 (2002/65/EC). This piece of legislation amended three prior existing Directives and is designed to ensure that consumers are appropriately protected with respect to financial transactions taking place where the consumer and the provider are not face-to-face. In addition to prohibiting certain abusive marketing practices, the Directive establishes criteria for the presentation of contract information. Given the special nature of financial markets, specifics are also laid out for contractual withdrawal.
Key Link: Distance Marketing
Direct Marketing over the Internet
The e-commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) imposes certain specific requirements connected to the direct marketing business. Promotional offers must not mislead customers and the terms that must be met to qualify for them have to be clear and easily accessible. The Directive stipulates that marketing e-mails must be identified as such to the recipient and requires that companies targeting customers on-line must regularly consult national opt-out registers where they exist. When an order is placed, the service provider must acknowledge receipt quickly and by electronic means, although the Directive does not attribute any legal effect to the placing of an order or its acknowledgment: this is a matter for national law. Vendors of electronically supplied services (such as software, which the EU considers a service and not a good) must also collect value added tax (see Electronic Commerce section below). The European Commission has performed a stakeholder’s consultation and is currently assessing the opportunity to propose a revision of the e-commerce Directive.
Key Link: Direct Marketing over the Internet
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