From time to time, consumers shopping abroad are confronted with discrimination. The European Consumer Centre helps to solve these cases.
Free movement of goods and the freedom to provide services are key demands of the economy, as long as they represent an advantage for entrepreneurs. However, when a consumer wants to purchase goods or use services from abroad for a cheaper price, those demands may vanish quickly.
Claims regarding higher prices
At least, this is the impression one could get according to the many claims the European Consumer Centre Austria (ECC) receives. Consumers with a place of residence in Austria can't purchase goods and services offered online in other EU Member States for the same price or not at all.
There are many examples to demonstrate declined orders: Mrs. A wanted to order a baby crib from a website. The trader refused to accept her order on the grounds that the product would only be sold to consumers living in Germany.
Shipping address in Germany necessary
Mr. B reported a similar case. He wanted to order a specific glue at the sales platform of a well-known German online trader. After entering his Austrian shipping address, the consumer suddenly was confronted with the notice that the requested product couldn't be delivered to this address in Austria and that he needed to state an address in Germany or otherwise delete his order.
Booking a rental car
Mr. D wanted to book a rental car from the German website of a multinational car rental company for his vacation in Hawaii. The price for the car was about 86 euros cheaper than on the Austrian website and the conditions were customer-friendly. The company refused the booking due to his inability to state a residence in Germany.
Defying applicable law
In all mentioned cases, the traders are violating applicable law. Discrimination due to place of residence or nationality is forbidden. This prohibition is regulated in the EU Services Directive that came into force on January 1st, 2010. In Austria, it was implemented into national law on November 22nd, 2011.
The non-discrimination principle refers explicitly to private commercial companies. The term "services" was defined in a broad manner and also applies to the distribution of goods (retail sale).
Unequal treatment due to place of residence or nationality is only allowed on the grounds of objective and verifiable criteria like different sales taxes in different countries.
Declining the download of a music file or an eBook can be justified if the respective trader doesn't have the necessary licenses and rights to use at the consumer's place of residence.
Demand a conclusion of the contract
Objective reasons are often unclear to the consumer. It is therefore recommended to point out to a trader who refuses to accept an order or a booking due to residence or nationality about the non-discrimination principle and furthermore demand the conclusion of a contract in written form.
If the trader still refuses the conclusion of the contract and doesn't state any objective reasons, the European Consumer Centre Austria (ECC) provides help for consumers. The ECC clarifies whether the unequal treatment is justified or not and intervenes if necessary.
Update of navigation systems
ECC Austria was able to positively settle a lot of complaints in the past. A consumer from Austria purchased a car navigation system with the included offer of a cost-free map update for a period of three years. As he wanted to use the update, he was informed that he needed a place of residence in Germany in order to avail of the promotion. After an intervention by ECC Austria, the company also offered the map update to the consumer resident in Austria.
Cashback offered by electronics manufacturers
A company offered a notebook in combination with a so-called cashback campaign. Customers who registered and submitted the purchase documents were promised a refund of € 50,- per purchased device. The company refused to pay the amount to an Austrian consumer and told her that she would need a German bank account and a German residence. After the intervention of ECC Austria, the consumer received the refund.
Another customer of an electronics manufacturer purchased a mobile phone via a German online trader for 315.17 euros. Shortly after, the company reduced the prices for the whole line of products. The difference between the purchase price and an amount of € 59,- was refunded. In the case mentioned above the consumer would therefore receive a refund of € 256,-. According to the terms and conditions of the company, the cash back campaign was only valid in Germany. The consumer thought that he could participate as he purchased the phone from a German online trader. The electronics manufacturer declined and pointed out that the consumer was living in Austria. After an intervention by ECC Austria the manufacturer agreed to reimburse the price rebate to the consumer to the sum of € 256,-.
Prize of a multinational food corporation
An Austrian consumer purchased a package of chocolates from a trader in Vienna. By way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of a special chocolate, the manufacturer issued a special edition of chocolate boxes with 50 of them containing gold bags worth €1000,- each. Luckily for the Austrian consumer, she found one in the chocolate box she bought. The consumer contacted the manufacturer to claim the prize, but was told that the lottery was only arranged in Germany and that she would need to have a place of residence in Germany in order to avail of this promotion. After an intervention by ECC Austria the multinational food corporation agreed to pay the prize of € 1000,- to the Austrian consumer.
Cases of discrimination based on place of residence or nationality can be submitted to ECC Austria via the online complaint form on www.europakonsument.at or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org (please enter into the subject line: "discrimination within the single market").
You can also reach us by phone under 01 588 77-81 (Mo-Fr, 9-15) or send a letter to: Europäisches Verbraucherzentrum Österreich, Mariahilfer Straße 81, 1060 Wien.
Shopping abroad: Summary
- Non-Discrimination principle: Especially regarding online shopping, consumers get discriminated due to their place of residence. This is - as long as there are no objective reasons - forbidden by law. Consumers should demand the delivery of the product or service in written form.
- Price differences: Different prices for goods and services provided within the EU are only justified when objective and verifiable criteria exist, like for example different sales taxes.
- ECC Austria: If a company refuses to conclude a contract due to place of residence or nationality of the consumer and does not justify the different treatment, the European Consumer Centre Austria provides support.