Due to the Distance Selling Directive, customers have the right to cancel almost any contract they closed on the internet within two weeks (or one month). But does this right also apply to digital goods like e-books, software, etc.?
Internet shopping has its peculiarities. The most obvious one is that buyers and sellers are not in the same place. Thus, customers on a virtual shopping tour are not able to try on e.g. a new pair of jeans, but have to rely on the information given by the retailer. Luckily, customers have legal cancellation rights when buying tangible goods online. If the delivered pair of jeans does not fit, customers can simply return it to the retailer, who will refund the purchase price. Therefore, there is no risk of buying a "pig in a poke". But do customers equal cancellation rights for intangible products delivered by download?
Actually, this is still something of a regulatory gray area. Even classification is difficult: Are MP3 songs, e-books etc. classic goods like CDs, paperbacks or clothing? Or are they services, because we can not touch them and they are obtained via download? Legal texts and online retailer practices show a tendency to classify them as goods.
This has the advantage that sellers can benefit from the few special regulations which the law provides for online sales. Therefore, the current perception in Germany is that digital goods are, due to their intangible nature, not suitable for returns and that the buyer therefore has no cancellation rights.
With the revised law of cancellation rights to be launched in the summer of 2014, the exclusion of digital goods will become explicitly regulated:
Cancellation rights will then expire as soon as the retailer begins to execute the contract, i.e. to release the download. The retailer is obliged to inform the customer in detail about this beforehand and needs the customer's explicit consent before doing so.
Obligatory consumer instructions
In practice, online store owners should instruct their customers on whether they have cancellation rights or not until summer 2014. Therefore, online sellers should at least include this information in their terms and conditions and graphically highlight it. Moreover, it is recommended to point out a lack of cancellation rights during the sales order process as well, because customers will most likely not read the terms and conditions carefully before ordering. Buyers should be well-informed about the legal situation before actually buying goods and should not be taken by surprise afterwards.
Legally sound terms and conditions etc. including an effective anti-warning module for your plentymarkets store:
About the author
The lawyer Dr. Volker Baldus works for janolaw AG, an online legal service provider, where he is responsible for internet law. janolaw AG is based in Germany’s Rhein-Main region and has been one of the top providers of internet law services since 2000. More and more store owners successfully use the legal services provided by janolaw for their business. Arising questions about online trading are immediately and authoritatively answered by experienced lawyers on the phone. The AGB Hosting-Service, a convenient service for hosting terms and conditions, ensures permanent legal certainty in e-commerce. Moreover, update services for eBay and Amazon are available. More than 1000 documents provide first-aid legal assistance quickly and easily via download.
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