Geoblocking

Shopping on a website with a foreign domain is often impossible as companies restrict the access for consumers.

 

Consumers are complaining to us about traders who offer products much cheaper in a nearby country than in Austria. "It is really annoying and frustrating for consumers to get restricted from accessing such offers online, just because their delivery address would be in Austria", says Reinhold Schranz, legal adviser at ECC Austria.

 

Online discrimination

 

Such discriminating practices are called geoblocking. Thousands of Austrian and other European consumers experience it every year, especially in the sectors of e-commerce, tourism, digital services and telecommunication. "According to a survey on europakonsument.at, nearly 90 percent of Austrian consumers were affected by geoblocking at least once", says Reinhold Schranz. There is no obligation to provide goods at the same price everywhere, but: "As soon as the possibility of online price comparison is provided, it should be possible for customers to shop wherever they want." 

 

Example cases of ECC Austria

 

Tchibo

 

Alexander L. (Vienna) wanted to order an espresso maker from the German website www.tchibo.de, because they offered a test set including eight coffee capsules postage-free for 49 Euro. On the Austrian website, the same machine cost 99 Euro. However, the trader denied the delivery to Austria. Actually, they offer delivery to over 20 European countries, but Austria is not one of them. When asked about this, Tchibo explained that in some countries like Austria, Hungary or Czech Republic, consumers can only order at the national companies.

 

It is legally permissible that subsidiaries offer the same products in different sales regions for different prices. "However, as soon as consumers are able to compare prices and sales online, it should be possible for them to order a cheaper product via the online shop of a different sales region. If we buy something abroad, nobody at the cash desk asks us, where we live.", Reinhold Schranz explains.

 

Nikon

 

Peter S. (Tyrol) found an offer of Nikon GmbH: For every purchase of a camera lens at a German trader within a certain time period, consumers would get a refund of 100 Euro per lens. Peter ordered lenses for almost 900 Euro and sent the invoices to Nikon Germany in order to get the promised refund. Nikon told him that only consumers living in Germany who have a German bank account could participate in the cash-back-action. Peter only got his 200 Euro after the intervention of ECC Austria.

 

Amazon

 

Harald G. (Vienna) wanted to order a digital camera from www.amazon.de for 1.550 Euro. After entering his data, he got the note that the camera could not be delivered to Austria. After the intervention of the ECC-Net, the company stated that higher-priced products that cost more than 1.500 Euro could not be delivered to Austria due to actuarial reasons. Reinhold Schranz: "It is not understandable that a global player like Amazon, who ships its products worldwide, is unable to deliver to Austria. For us, this is an inadmissable refusal." After the intervention of ECC Austria, the insurance was not mentioned anymore and Amazon delivered the camera to Austria without further ado.

 

Motorola

 

Harald Z. wants to order a smartphone that is much cheaper on the German website than on the Austrian. But the delivery outside of Germany is excluded, so Harald enters the address of his uncle who lives in Munich. The payment is processed via PayPal. Shortly after, Harald receives a mail from the German trader, telling him that his order is invalid. Upon his request, they tell him that his method of payment was not accepted because of the Austrian bank account stated at his PayPal account. The order would therefore be cancelled. According to the SEPA regulation, the German provider has to accept payment from an Austrian bank account. It is therefore a clear discrimination based on the place of residence of the consumer.

 

This article was originally published in the test magazine KONSUMENT in cooperation with the  Verein für Konsumenteninformation (VKI). Translation by ECC Austria.