Retail Online retail vs high-street retail from a legal perspective
Digitization has entered and affected myriad aspects of our society in recent years, including the way in which we buy and sell our goods. Online retail is increasingly replacing high-street retail. In this blog post, you will find out what online retail is allowed to do and what high-street retail is unable to do.
The benefit of buying online is that there is no set time period in which the purchase needs to be made (store opening hours), which means that consumers can shop at any time of the day or night. As a consumer, you can enjoy the benefit of having the goods delivered to your home and not needing to carry them around with you. But if you want to order something from an online shop in another country, you are often redirected to the provider’s website in your own country, where the prices are frequently higher. In EU and EEA countries, this practice is due to end with the adoption of the EU Regulation on addressing unjustified geoblocking, which is designed to legally abolish and prohibit these barriers. However, this applies only to the EU area and therefore only to Swiss online providers who advertise and deliver to consumers in the EU.
According to the Swiss Foundation for Consumer Protection, the Federal Council should also enact a similar ban on geoblocking to enable Swiss consumers to make purchases at fair prices online.
However, there is a crucial difference between high-street and online retail, namely the right of cancellation. In the EU, retailers are not permitted to sell goods or services without granting a right of cancellation of 14 days after the online purchase is made. This is also mandatory for Swiss companies selling in the EU area. Swiss policymakers, however, have again affirmed that they do not wish to introduce a right of cancellation along the lines of the EU’s e-commerce legislation (see www.konsumentenschutz.ch). This means that Swiss residents buying from a online shop run by a Swiss company are in a worse position than those buying from an online shop based in the EU. This puts Swiss online retailers at such a competitive disadvantage that an increasing number of them are voluntarily granting a right of cancellation of 14 days or even longer in their GTCs.
In any case, there is an urgent need for action on the part of Swiss online providers to meet the new data protection provisions (be it the GDPR or the new Swiss Federal Act on Data Protection). Start making preparations before it’s too late.
There is still one more key difference, and this concerns obligations to provide publication details. In Switzerland, only the minimum requirements are defined, while there are in-depth regulations on publication details and the information they must contain within the EU. Failure to provide this information constitutes a violation of competition law for which warnings can be issued and Swiss companies may pay dearly.
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