- MEPs have voted in favor of ending geo-blocking and country redirects by the end of 2018.
Many Europeans shop online on a daily basis. Whether it’s for electronics, appliances or furniture, 57% of EU citizens bought something online in 2017. Shopping online is one of the favorite activities of internet users, of which 68% shopped online in 2017.
Online shopping doesn’t stop at the border: in 2017 one third of online shoppers bought from a retailer in another EU country. However, shoppers can come up against various barriers that prevent them from getting what they want.
In February 2018, MEPs adopted a regulation to end geo-blocking, obliging retailers to give people access to goods and services on the same terms all over the EU, regardless of where they are connecting from.
What is geo-blocking ?
Any restriction imposed by online shops based on nationality, place of residence or place of connection.
For example, when you are shopping from Belgium and find the coast you want on a French website. You fill your cart, double-check you have picked the right size and click “buy”. The message “You are being re-directed to the Belgian page of this website” appears on your screen and you find yourself on the Belgian page of the website, where the object of your dreams is not available. This is called country redirect and it is one of the several barriers that prevents shoppers from picking the online shop they prefer.
Other forms of customer discrimination include:
- The website not accepting a means of payment (for example credit cards) from a different EU country
- Not being able to register on the website because of where someone lives of from where someone is connecting from
A study by the European Commission, which analyzed thousands of websites all over the EU, discovered that in only 37% of cases people were able to complete a purchase from another EU country and buy the goods that they wanted. In the other cases, online shoppers experienced some form of restriction, commonly known as geo-blocking
Actions of the European Parliament
Parliament wants this discrimination to end, so that people can benefit, both online and offline, from an integrated single market. Róża Thun (EPP, PL), the MEP in charge of steering the new rules through Parliament, said:
“What we have achieved is that the online shopping and shopping in the real world come closer and closer together, that nobody can be discriminated against on the internet.”
The new rules apply to a wide range of goods and services, including:
- physical goods such as furniture and electronics
- online services such as cloud services or website hosting
- entertainment services such as tickets to leisure parks and concerts
Rules will enter into force by the end of 2018.
Ending geo-blocking for other products
The Parliament has made sure that the European Commission will carry an evaluation of the end of geo-blocking within two years, while also considering including copyrighted materials such as e-books and audio-visual products that are for the moment excluded from the regulation.