Monday, 27 July 2009

Online shopping comparison sites – shipping costs must be included

UK internet shopping web sites should probably (whether they knew it or not) have had to indicate shipping / delivery costs (as well as VAT) clearly on their sites since May 2008, under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

That particular point was made in guidance from UK government departments on computer online sales, rather than something that was explicitly spelt out for all web shopping sites, but it makes sense or is at least good practice, given the general law banning “unfair commercial practices” which should have been implemented across the EU in 2007 – the UK were late, and a few others are still behind (more on unfair commercial practices in the UK; and see which countries have banned unfair commercial practices).

A recent Google Base blog post mentioned that “on July 16th the German Supreme Court ruled in a lawsuit concerning shipping costs in comparison shopping results” and that Google were working on a solution for German merchants.

Now I’ve not been able to track down the judgement or any other news on it yet, but I strongly suspect that the court must have ruled that internet price comparison sites are required to include the full total price when serving up results comparing products from different websites, i.e. sales tax and shipping charges as well as the base price.

And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s because of the Unfair Commercial Practices laws in Germany.

As soon as I've more info I'll report back. Does anyone else know any further details about this case?

Update: now see the German court's press release (in German) on the German supreme court ruling of July 16, 2009 - I ZR 140/07 (LG Hamburg, decision of 16 Jan 2007 416 O 339/06 & OLG Hamburg, decision of 25 Jul 2007 5 U 10/07 Karlsruhe, 17 Jul 2009), kindly sent to me by someone whose translation of the press release is as follows:

"Under the price regulation, a dealer is obliged to indicate whether in addition to the final price of the product there are additional delivery and shipping costs. Where appropriate, he must indicate their amount or the way in which they are calculated. This information must be clearly assigned to the advertising as well as easily identifiable and clearly legible or otherwise be made clearly perceptible.

With prices in price comparison lists, consumers must be able to see at a glance whether the price includes shipping or not. The significance of the price comparison, which is usually displayed in a ranked list, depends on this essential information. Under these circumstances, it is not sufficient if the consumer is only informed about additional shipping costs at the moment he consults the details for a specific product."

While that’s just a local German case, it may be influential elsewhere in the EU. And there's no reason why it shouldn't apply as much (if not more) to shopping sites as to price comparision sites. If the result of the case is to make European retail websites as well as price comparison services (aka shopping comparison sites or price engines) pull their socks up and provide complete easy to find pricing information in terms of the actual total cost to the consumer, making it easier to compare the total cost of purchase, that can be no bad thing for consumers.

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