Also during the corona crisis, companies are not allowed to mislead consumers. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (“ACM”) recently emphasised that companies must provide correct and realistic information if products cannot be supplied, or will be supplied late, for instance due to the closure of factories. Last month, ACM published Guidelines on the protection of online consumers. In those Guidelines ACM set the limits between enticement and prohibited misleading. On the basis of the Guidelines, this blog lists the main tips for companies in online consumer sales. More information on the consumer rules can be found at www.consumentenrecht.info.
Tip 1 – Provide complete information
It must immediately be apparent to consumers what a product, service or contract costs. They may not be confronted with unexpected costs. The price and all additional costs must therefore always be stated in euros and a description of the product or service must be provided. Additional (optional) costs (such as booking costs and the costs of extra baggage) must be clearly specified in the price.
ACM also expects you to state the manner in which you collect information in order to offer personalised products or prices to consumers. If that is done using cookies, the visitors of your website must give their permission. Without a visitor’s permission, only functional or analytical cookies that have limited or no consequences for the privacy of visitors may be installed via your website.
Tip 2 – Provide correct information
If you offer products or services “free of charge”, they must actually be free of charge. A product or service is not free of charge if the consumer pays for them in the form of personal data. An app that allows (obligatory or other) purchases is also not free of charge. If additional costs apply or if the consumer in actual facts pays in the form of personal data or in another manner, consumers must be informed accordingly.
It is not permitted to create the impression that products or services are scarce when that is not the case, because consumers are then induced to hastily make the purchase. That constitutes undue influence. This applies to statements such as “only a few items left” or “this offer is valid only for a limited period”.
Tip 3 – Provide understandable information
The language level of visitors of your website may vary significantly. ACM will ensure that the information that is relevant to your company’s target group is provided in plain language. It is advisable to avoid legalese, double negatives and ambiguous terms, for instance.
Tip 4 – Provide complete information before a consumer makes a purchase
Essential information, such as the price, must immediately be clear to consumers at the start of every offer. Other important information must in any event be provided before consumers make a purchase.
Tip 5 – Information must be easily accessible
Consumers must have easy access to important information. A consumer must be able to find information on, for instance, the price, the use of personal data and other conditions in a logical place. Such a logical place might be the home page of your website.
Tip 6 – Use a logical and honest website design
Pay attention to the design of your website. Visitors to your website may be confused by an illogical layout and may consequently misunderstand the information provided. Easy-reference menus, clear fonts and logical colours, icons and click screams should be used.
Tip 7 – Use default setting that are favourable for consumers
If you use default settings to have consumers make a certain choice, for instance when certain boxes are already checked by default, make sure that those settings do not cause consumers to make choices that they themselves would not have make. This applies, for instance, to options that give rise to extra costs or that require the provision of personal data. Actively request the consumer’s permission for every payment (or extra payment) (in cash or other) and do not check boxes by default if that gives rise to extra costs.
ACM has announced that it will actively take measures against companies that fail to comply with the Guidelines. The focus will be on rankings, fake reviews and fake likes, among other things. ACM has far-reaching investigation and sanctioning powers in this regard. It may, for instance, carry out dawn raids to investigate violations or give a public warning in the event of prohibited sales activities. ACM may impose fines of up to €900,000 and even 10% of the annual turnover. It is therefore advisable to take note of the tips listed above and not to mislead consumers.
More information on dawn raids by ACM can be found at invalacm.nl