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End of Geo-Blocking for On-Line Shopping

Tuesday 08 January 2019

A new EU regulation prohibits geo-blocking of on-line sales across Europe, a change that will also apply after Brexit.

Expatriate on-line shoppers in France are likely to be familiar with the practice of 'geo-blocking', a practice used by businesses to deny cross-border on-line sales.

Thus, for instance, if you tried to buy goods on-line from UK retailer Marks and Spencer you would be obliged to do so from their France based on-line shop rather than the UK.

In most cases the price of goods from the shop in France is higher than that in the UK, although in France there is free delivery above a minimum order.

As a result of the new law you cannot any longer be obliged to buy from the on-line store where you are resident; you are free to access a store located anywhere in Europe.

However, there is no obligation on the retailer to deliver to your country of residence; that is a matter left to the discretion of the retailer, and the evidence to date is a very mixed one. It is still not possible, for instance, to obtain delivery from M&S UK to France, despite stating on their website that they 'deliver to other countries'.

Neither is the retailer obliged to offer their websites in multiple languages; so if you wish to buy from a Romanian retailer, you may need to either understand the language or use a good on-line translation tool.

In terms of differential prices between countries, the new regulation similarly forbids discrimination based on a customer’s nationality or geographical location.

Transport services, retail financial services, audio-visual services are all exempt. Also exempt are those goods protected by copyright such as e-books, video games, music, and software.

Whilst a business is free to accept whatever payment methods it chooses, it cannot automatically decline credit or debit cards from a different country.

As the regulation applies to any country outside of the EU selling goods into the EU, in the event of Brexit it will also apply to a UK based business selling goods and services into Europe.

The regulation also applies to on-line services, so car rental companies who restrict access or who discriminate unjustifiably on pricing between countries will be obliged to cease the practice.

The change is part of the EUs ‘Digital Single Market Strategy', designed to enable free movement of goods and services across borders in the digital marketplace.

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