A new online platform to resolve disputes introduces a support mechanism system for consumers, as well as new obligations for e-commerce companies.
On 15 February 2016 an online platform to resolve consumer disputes (the “Platform“) was launched, materializing the European Commission’s obligation of creating said platform once the transitional regime for applying Regulation (EU) 524/2013, on the online dispute resolution for consumer disputes, came to an end on 9 January 2016.
The Platform provides an alternative online mechanism to resolve conflicts by mediating in disputes arising from the online sale of goods and services between consumers and e-commerce companies within the European Union. Generally speaking, the dispute resolution bodies available through the Platform offer a number of rules and procedures to resolve disputes, which are regarded as being easier, faster and less expensive than those offered by ordinary courts.
The procedure to resolve conflicts using the online Platform begins with the submission of an electronic claim form. Once the form is sent to the other party, both parties will select the dispute resolution body before a specified cut-off date. After applying its own rules and procedures, the dispute resolution body may suggest or enforce a solution or get the parties to meet so that they can reach an agreement. The handling of the procedure is free of charge and neither party has to meet in person while it takes place.
Although the main beneficiaries of the Platform are consumers, as it aims to offer coverage for any claims initiated by these against e-commerce companies, the truth is that some Member States – currently not Spain – allow e-commerce companies to use the Platform to initiate claims against consumers.
The creation of the Platform introduces new obligations for e-commerce companies, their intermediaries and any electronic platforms that allow sellers and consumers to contact each other in order to sell and purchase products or provide services online. These obligations are:
- to provide an email address to contact the seller with the aim of reaching a friendly resolution between the consumer making the claim and the company;
- to inform of the existence of the Platform and of the possibility of using it to resolve any conflicts related to a purchase or provision of services;
- to provide the link to the Platform which should be in an easily accessible place on the webpage or on the email sent, if this is the medium used to make the offer; and
- to include the above information in the terms and conditions applicable to online purchase or provision of services agreements.
Although it is true that the Spanish legislator has yet to establish a penalty system derived from the non-compliance of these obligations, our advice to e-commerce entities is that they should adopt these requirements as soon as possible in their website platforms.