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EU court guided on e-commerce contact info disclosures

Online retailers do not need to make a telephone number available to consumers to abide by EU law if they offer a choice of other communication channels through which consumers can contact them, an adviser to the EU's highest court has said.01 Mar 2019

Advocate general Giovanni Pitruzzella said EU law precludes EU member states from requiring businesses entering into distance contracts to give consumers their telephone number prior to acceptance of the contract.

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has been asked by a court in Germany to clarify how provisions contained in a 2011 EU directive on consumer rights should be interpreted.

The directive, among other things, sets out information requirements that businesses must meet before concluding contracts with consumers. The information requirements are different for distance or off-premises contracts than those that apply to other business-to-consumer contracts.

According to the EU rules, for contracts other than distance or off-premises contracts, businesses must provide consumers with their telephone number.

In the case of distance or off-premises contracts, though, businesses must provide the consumer with a range of information including "the geographical address at which the trader is established and the trader’s telephone number, fax number and email address, where available, to enable the consumer to contact the trader quickly and communicate with him efficiently".

In all circumstances the information must be provided "in a clear and comprehensible manner".

The Federal Court of Justice in Germany is considering a legal challenge brought by the German federation of consumer associations, the Bundesverband, against Amazon over the communication channels it provides to consumers, and asked the CJEU to clarify those requirements.

Pitruzzella set out his non-binding opinion in the case on Thursday.

Pitruzzella said: "The list of means of communication set out in [the EU consumer rights directive in relation to distance selling] is not exhaustive and traders may also use other means of communication not mentioned in that list, such as online chat services or call-back facilities, provided that, whatever means of communication are employed, they actually offer consumers a choice of what means to use and ensure rapid contact and efficient communication, and provided that the information regarding those means of communication is provided in a clear and comprehensible manner."

"Fulfilment of the obligation of transparency under [the directive] requires that consumers should be able to access the information regarding the means of communication which traders make available to them in a simple, efficient and relatively rapid manner," he said.

The CJEU often follows the opinions developed by advocate generals to the court, but not always. A ruling by the CJEU is not likely until later this year.