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Europe Forces Sellers to Adopt Two-Year Returns Policy

Did you know that purchases in Europe come with a 2-year guarantee? That’s a rule of the European Union, and now it wants to tighten up that policy even more.

Europe is made up of many countries, but thanks to the European Union, (most) member countries have adopted a single currency and are working to unlock the power of working together. One initiative is the Digital Single Market – “Bringing down barriers to unlock online opportunities,” as the European Commission phrased it.

Here is the current rule for merchants in EU countries with regard to faulty items (i.e., SNADS):

“If an item you bought anywhere in the EU turns out to be faulty or does not look or work as advertised, the seller must repair or replace it free of charge or give you a full refund or reduction in price. In some EU countries you will be offered the choice between all four remedies from the outset. Otherwise you will be able to ask for a full or partial refund only when it is not possible or convenient to repair or replace the item.

“And bear in mind that you might not be entitled to a refund if the problem is minor, such as a scratch on a CD case.

“The two-year guarantee period starts as soon as you receive your goods. In some EU countries you must inform the seller of the fault within two months of discovering it otherwise you may lose your right to the guarantee.”

new proposal under the Digital Single Market initiative contains a provision that would force merchants to accept returns for faulty items for 2 years with tighter restrictions:

“Reversal of the burden of proof: For instance, if an Italian consumer discovers today that a product he/she purchased online more than 6 months ago is defective and asks the seller to repair or replace it, he/she may be asked to prove that this defect existed at the time of delivery. Under the proposed new rules, throughout the two-year guarantee period, the consumer will be able to ask for a remedy without having to prove that the defect existed at the time of delivery.”

The proposal is designed to unify contract laws so it’s simpler for shoppers and merchants to buy outside their national border. “Only 12 % of EU retailers sell online across borders, and only 15% of EU consumers buy online across borders,” the European Commission stated.

It also explained, “Differences in national contract laws are a significant obstacle for cross-border sales for four out of ten EU retailers (39%) currently selling online. The additional one-off cost for businesses to adapt to different consumer contract laws when selling cross-border is around 9,000 euros for each Member State they wish to sell to.”

Having uniform rules does sound better for merchants who wish to sell internationally within the European Union. The commission stated, “If the same rules for e-commerce applied across the EU, 57% of EU businesses that are either active or interested in online cross-border trade would “definitely” or “to some extent” start or increase their online cross-border sales.”


  • Your business will avoid additional legal costs when entering new markets.
  • You won’t have to spend extra cash adapting consumer contracts for different EU countries.
  • You’ll have more legal certainty when trading.

However, if the rules are made too burdensome, it may have the opposite effect. By changing the burden of proof, is the EU turning a 2-year guarantee into a 2-year return policy?

What do you think?

Comment on the EcommerceBytes Blog.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.