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Brussels Encourages Cross-Border Internet Shopping

Europeans who shop online need more protection against fraud, late deliveries and unfair sales conditions, the European Union's executive body said as it proposed a package of measures to boost consumer protection.

Computer keyboard

More and more Europeans are shopping online, but most stay in their own country

Under the proposals from the European Commission, which have to be approved by EU member states, retailers anywhere in Europe will have to provide customers with information, such as the price of their product, including all taxes and shipping charges, and the retailer's identity and address.

Customers who are not told about extra charges when they place their order will not have to pay those charges, says the proposal, which was issued Wednesday, Oct. 8.

The retailer will also have to guarantee delivery anywhere within the EU within 30 days. They will also have to compensate the purchaser within a week if the product is damaged or fails to arrive.

User friendly

Additionally, customers will have the right to a 14-day "cooling-off period," during which they can change their minds and send the product back.

And retailers will no longer be allowed to insert clauses such as "The trader is not responsible for mistakes made by his agents" into contracts. Nor will they be allowed to pre-check boxes on online order forms that commit customers to buying extra services unless the customer unchecks the boxes.

According to figures from the Commission, approximately 150 million EU citizens shop online, but only 30 million look for products in other EU member states -- spending on average 800 euros ($1,090) per year in the process.

Fear of fraud

At the same time, identical products in different member states can vary enormously in price. An eight-gigabyte iPod Nano, for example, can range in price from 169.44 euros in Britain to 268.96 euros in Hungary, a commission study said.

EU officials are keen to boost the volume of cross-border e-shopping in the bloc. However, European consumers are still reluctant to buy from Web sites in other countries, largely for fear of fraud.

According to the Commission, the proportion of Europeans shopping online rose from 23 to 30 percent between 2005 and 2008, but the proportion of those doing so abroad rose only from 6 to 7 percent.

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