A new EU rule which came into force in mid-June is expected to transform the e-commerce industry, with the potential for the volume of parcel returns to climb sky-high.

Starting from 13th June 2014, consumers who buy online will have much longer to return their goods if not satisfied, and if sellers don’t comply with the rules, they could end up forced to bear the cost.

The new rules

The regulations regarding distance selling have been brought in as part of a new EU Directive and provide the consumers with more time to make up their mind, as well as a more substantial cooling off period.

Customers currently only have 7 days from the date of purchase to cancel an order; under the new rules this period extends to 14 calendar days from when they receive it, not when they bought it.

Once notified that a customer wants to cancel their order, the vendor has just 14 days in order to make a full refund, including any charges which were previously levied for shipping or packing. During this two week period the customer must return the goods.

As part of the EU Directive, sellers will also be forced to use standardised forms in order to process customer returns.

Are there any exceptions?

The new rules apply to all kinds of e-commerce and distance selling, including auction site, mobile phone sales and mail order.

However, there are a few exceptions to the Directive.

Sales arising from individuals acting in a private capacity aren’t subject to the Directive, and professionals offering services such as maintenance or urgent repairs will be exempt from the rules too.

Other items which remain excluded from the two week cooling off period include hotel bookings, tickets and regular orders for food and drinks (such as the milkman or a supermarket delivery).

All other distance sellers will be required to comply with the new regulations which mean there could potentially be a significant rise in the number of returns.

New consumer right rules are set to increase parcel returns

What happens if a seller doesn’t comply?

One of the duties that the new regulations puts upon the seller is the need to ensure customers are made fully aware of their rights, as well as the total cost. This must be conveyed prior to the purchase being made.

The Directive states clearly that the seller must inform the customer how much the item will cost in total, including shipping and any other additional charges. This information must be available before the purchase is made.

In addition, the seller must consider what their policy on returns will be. Their returns policy should also be displayed in a prominent position, and include what – if any – of the costs are to be borne by the customer. (NOTE: this policy will not be enforceable in the event that the goods are found to be faulty).

If the seller fails to provide any of this information, the customer will have the right to return the items at no cost to themselves. In addition, they will be permitted to have a full year in order to cancel their order.

This highlights the critical need for sellers to be clear and detailed in the information they provide to their customers.

New consumer right rules are set to increase parcel returns.