The European Commission is to crack down on aggressive commercial practices which are discouraging consumers from shopping at online stores in other EU member states.

The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (the Directive) introduced a standardized set of rules across the EU, including a general prohibition on unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices.  Among the Directive’s provisions are bans on misleading consumers by making fraudulent claims about products and on aggressive marketing practices such as ‘fake free’ offers, hidden advertising, direct marketing to children and ‘baiting’ consumers with attractive offers that the trader is unable to supply in quantities based on the scale of the advertising.

The theory was that differences in fair trading laws between EU member states caused obstacles to trade.  So, the idea behind the Directive was to combine a high level of consumer protection with freeing up international trade in the EU.  However, five years after the Directive was implemented across member states and in its first report on how the Directive is working in practice, the European Commission has said that consumers and traders alike are still uncertain about how the rules would be applied by national enforcement bodies.  Member states have also raised concerns over the lack of resources and effective sanctions.

“Consumer spending accounts for 56% of EU GDP, but a lack of consumer confidence in shopping across EU borders means we are still not tapping into the full potential of the Single Market,” said EU Justice Commissioner Vivienne Reding. “We have good rules in place to protect consumers, but we need to make sure they are better enforced, especially in cross-border cases.”

“I want to see zero tolerance for rogue traders so consumers know exactly what they are buying and are not getting ripped off.  That also means a coherent approach to enforcing the same set of rules,” she said.

While the law will remain the same under the Directive, it seems that there will be an increased drive to crack down on aggressive commercial practices which contravene the Directive.  Watch this space.