This article is prepared by the Maxpay partner Händlerbund Management AG
Legal issues are among the top barriers to cross-border e-commerce in Europe. Nevertheless, e-merchants should not necessarily be afraid of international law. Harmonization of the legal framework on consumer rules for the sale of goods, services and digital content is already in effect within the European Union. Some of the following German principles and regulations may seem well known to you:
Free choice of law
EU Regulations provide that the parties may choose the law applicable to a consumer contract. A term on the choice of the applicable law designating the law of the Member State in which the seller is established is unfair only in so far as it causes a significant imbalance to the rights and obligations of the parties. The agreement based on Italian law between a Polish customer and a Swedish seller would be illicit.
“Swedish law shall apply. This choice of law only applies to customers if it does not result in the revocation of the protection guaranteed by the mandatory provisions of the law of the country in which the respective customer’s usual place of residence is located (benefit-of-the-doubt principle).”
Information requirements in the EU
Apart from the choice of law, numerous laws must be obeyed in the home country as well as in the target group’s country. The harmonization of the European Union’s legal framework on consumer rules for the sale of goods via Internet is a great catalyst for cross-border commerce.
To protect consumers from thoughtless orders, numerous information has to be provided by traders prior to the conclusion of an online purchase. Before the consumer is bound by a distance contract, the trader shall provide the consumer with a large number of information in a clear and comprehensible manner, e.g.
- Identity: such as name, address, telephone number, and email address
- information about the key characteristics of the goods
- total price
- arrangements for payment, delivery, performance
- the right of withdrawal.
Among these legal obligations, a series of other laws are important to traders. Attention should be paid to the labeling of products (e.g. the information about the energy efficiency class of an electrical product) which is mostly based on harmonized European regulations and directives.
Special German laws
The above mentioned is, on the basis of many harmonized European Regulations and Directives, not surprising for both German and traders in the other EU Member States. Nevertheless, attention should be paid to special German laws as well.
Among these, German data protection regulations play a very important role in online retail. On the basis of German data protection law, traders are obliged to inform visitors of their online presence and customers about data collection, processing and use of their personal data. The youth protection regulations are binding in the target country too.
Traders who ship to Germany must comply with the German Packaging Ordinance and obtain a German license. The same applies to the sale of electrical and electronic devices. The seller of electrical and electronic products to Germany is considered a manufacturer in Germany and has to register in Germany or appoint an authorized representative.
What makes it special is Germany’s exceptional competition law system. If these applicable German and European rules and regulations are disregarded or incorrectly interpreted, legal action from competitors, consumer protection agencies or fair trade organizations may result – and are likely. Therefore, a sound knowledge of German and European law is necessary to avoid any legal mistakes.
In the case of cross-border shipping within the European Union, VAT is applicable in the country of the recipient. However, this regulation will only be applicable if a specific delivery total of the target country has been exceeded in the current year or in the previous year. For shipping to Germany there is a threshold value of €100,000.
About the initiatives of the Händlerbund
Do you want to expand your online business internationally? Händlerbund provides all the necessary and legally secure texts for over 50 sales platforms including Amazon and eBay. Händlerbund guarantees European traders, as part of the membership, unlimited access to professional legal advice – whether via telephone or e-mail – at no extra cost. Members also have the opportunity for an individual shop inspection. Defined review criteria cover all the legal requirements that are important for online trading. That we consider the latest changes to legislation goes without saying. With our office service solution telbes, our trained e-commerce personnel take care of all your office services via telephone support and e-mail, whether it’s taking orders, processing complaints or just general customer inquiries. In case of the need for translation of product descriptions or website content, the Händlerbund provides with telbes translation corresponding support. In addition, Händlerbund provides a huge range of training possibilities, e.g. our own Händlerbund academy and fact sheets.
As a customer of Maxpay you receive a 2-month discount on a membership package for legally secure texts at Händlerbund in the first year of contract by using the following discount code: P1024#2017.
About the author
Since 2013, Yvonne Bachmann has been working as an attorney for the Händlerbund, Europe’s largest e-commerce association. She advises online retailers on legal issues and regularly reports on legislative changes and legal issues affecting the e-commerce industry. She has extensive experience in the online trading and advertising industry and its appropriate fields of law, coupled with an understanding of the needs of legal laymen. In addition, she is a speaker, interview partner, and guest author.