Ecommerce site? No contact number needed
The ECJ ruled earlier this month that online commerce platform providers or traders are not obliged to provide consumers with a telephone or fax number… Read more
The ECJ ruled earlier this month that online commerce platform providers or traders are not obliged to provide consumers with a telephone or fax number provided an alternative mechanism is in place that allows consumers to quickly and effectively communicate with the trader.
Under Article 6(1)(c) of the Directive, for distance and off premise selling (i.e. online sales platforms) consumers must be provided with the following information “in a clear and comprehensible manner”
- “the geographical address at which the trader is established
- the trader’s telephone number, fax number
- and the trader’s email address, where available
to enable the consumer to contact the trader quickly and communicate with him efficiently and, where applicable, the geographical address and identity of the trader on whose behalf he is acting”.
The issue arose after the Federal Union of Consumer Organisations and Associations, Germany (a German non governmental, ‘umbrella’ organisation for 41 German consumer associations) (the Federal Union) took issue with the “contact us” options available on www.amazon.de. The options did not include a fax number and the option to make contact by phone took customers to a call back mechanism rather than providing a number for customers to call.
The Federal Union considered the lack of a fax number and direct telephone number to be in contravention of Article 6(1)(c) and sought an injunction in the Regional Court of Cologne. The application was dismissed so the Federal Union then appealed the decision in the Higher Regional Court of Cologne, which was also dismissed. The Federal Union then appealed on a point of law to the Federal Court of Justice and that Court referred the matter to the ECJ in order to determine how Article 6(1)(c) should be interpreted.
In particular, the ECJ was asked to shed light on the significance and meaning of the words “where available”.
The ECJ’s decision
The ECJ held that an online commerce platform provider is not obliged to provide a telephone or fax number, as long as the trader provides a means of communication which allows customers to contact the trader quickly and efficiently. It is then a matter for domestic courts to determine whether the mechanisms offered by a specific trader satisfy that test.
The ECJ did however provide some guidance as it expressly stated that both an instant messaging platform and a call back mechanism could satisfy the requirements of Article 6(1)(c).
In reaching its decision the ECJ recognised the need to balance (i) a high level of consumer protection and (ii) the competitiveness of traders. The ECJ took the view that forcing online traders to employ staff to run a telephone contact point could undermine traders’ freedom to conduct business.
What does this decision mean for online commerce platform providers?
This is a positive development for online commerce platform providers.
If you are an online trader selling to consumers in the EU, you do not need to provide a telephone or fax contact point to your customers as long as you provide an alternative mechanism that allows customers to contact you quickly and communicate with you efficiently.
That, in turn, means that more cost effective mechanisms such as instant messaging and call back facilities can be deployed instead of a staffed telephone contact point while maintaining legal compliance.
If you would like to talk to us about your current practices and your options for communicating with your customers, please do not hesitate to gett in touch.
 Directive 2011/83/EU
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