Legal Alerts / 7 May 2014

Legal Alert – Extensive Amendments to Finnish E-commerce Legislation

The Finnish Consumer Protection Act has been amended to comply with the Directive on Consumer Rights 2011/83/EC. The amendment entering into force on 13 June 2014 changes the regulation of e-commerce and introduces new information requirements and rules on the right to withdraw from e-commerce and off-premises contracts.

Pre-contractual information requirements

The amendment to the Finnish Consumer Protection Act introduces new requirements on information that shall be provided to consumers prior to the conclusion of a sales contract. One noteworthy new requirement is the obligation to provide consumers with detailed withdrawal instructions and a model withdrawal form that substantially corresponds with the models set out in the ministry decree. In e-commerce, the pre-contractual information may, for example, be incorporated in online shops’ delivery terms.

Information during the order process

The amendment introduces further obligations for online shops to provide the consumer with certain minimum information during the order process.

  • Any applicable delivery and payment restrictions, such as payment cards accepted and countries of delivery, shall be indicated clearly and legibly on the trader’s website.
  • A summary of the order containing information on the characteristics of the purchase, the total price of the order and the duration of the contract shall be communicated to the consumer directly before the consumer places an order.

In order to avoid the risk that the consumer is not bound by the purchase, the trader shall ensure that the consumer has explicitly acknowledged his payment obligation by labelling the order button in an easily legible manner indicating that placing the order entails an obligation to pay.
Like before, after the consumer has placed their order, the trader shall provide the consumer with an order confirmation for example by e-mail. Under the amendment, the order confirmation shall further contain  pre-contractual information mandatory under the new rules.

Withdrawal rights

Consumer goods

Under current legislation, the consumer is able to withdraw from a distance contract by returning the goods to the trader. Under the new rules, the consumer shall, in order to exercise their right of withdrawal, provide the trader with an unequivocal statement setting out his decision to withdraw from the contract within 14 days from the receipt of the goods.

Further, contrary to the present situation, the consumer is under the new rules responsible for the costs of returning the purchased goods to the trader, unless the trader has explicitly agreed to bear the costs or has neglected to inform the consumer that the return costs are borne by the consumer.

After the amendment enters into force, the consumer will not lose their right of withdrawal after taking a product into use. The consumer will only be obliged to compensate the diminished value of the goods to the trader.

Consumer services

Under the current legislation, the consumer loses their right to withdraw from a service contract after the performance of the service has begun with the consumer’s consent. Under the new rules, the consumer will lose their right of withdrawal during the 14 days cooling-off period only after the service has been fully performed at the consumer’s prior explicit request. Without the consumer’s explicit request and sufficient pre-contractual information on the withdrawal right, the consumer is not obliged to pay for the services rendered by the trader.

If the consumer withdraws from the contract before the service has been fully performed, the consumer is obliged to compensate the trader for the costs of services already rendered at the consumer’s request.

Digital content

The right to withdraw from a contract on delivery of digital content has not changed. The consumer loses their right of withdrawal when delivery of the digital content has begun. However, under the new rules, delivery of digital content may not be initiated before the expiry of the 14-day cooling-off period unless the consumer has given their prior explicit consent. Without the explicit consent and sufficient information on the withdrawal right, the consumer is not obliged to pay for the digital content that has been delivered.

Conclusions

The Directive on Consumer Rights has led to more stringent information requirements and has brought broader rights for consumers to withdraw from contracts. Non-compliance with the new information requirements may imply that there is no right to claim compensation for services rendered. Simultaneously, the fact that traders are no longer obliged to bear the return costs of returned goods gives room for choice.

It is recommendable for e-commerce businesses to thoroughly review the new information requirements in order to make sure that the required information is appropriately communicated to consumers. In addition, the fact that the Directive is a full harmonisation Directive gives traders a reason to review their delivery terms on an EU wide basis and further harmonise the terms used within different Member States.

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