The European Court of Justice (the “ECJ”) has clarified the requirements under the Consumer Rights Directive last week - confirming that businesses using a telephone number and/or email address are not obliged to provide such information to consumers.
The Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU) (the “CRD”) sets out information requirements which must be met by businesses before they enter into contracts with consumers. In particular, one requirement is for traders to provide their “telephone number, fax number and email address, where available, to enable the consumer to contact the trader quickly and communicate with the trader efficiently”.
Overview of the case
Through the use of its website www.amazon.de, Amazon provided its customers with an option, prior to order completion, to get in touch by telephone. This option however, did not provide customers with a telephone number to call, rather, customers were required to provide their own telephone number and Amazon would contact them.
The German Federal Union of Consumer Organisations brought an action against Amazon, claiming that Amazon failed to provide its consumers with “effective means” to enter into contact with it; and that the call-back service provided by Amazon did not satisfy the information requirements set out under the CRD.
The case was brought before the German courts in the first instance and was supported by local law which requires traders, “before concluding a distance or off-premises contract with consumers, to provide their telephone number in all circumstances”.
The German court sought clarity from the ECJ on the scope of the term “where available” used in the CRD.
The ECJ’s ruling
It was held by the ECJ that traders are not obliged to provide their telephone number in “all circumstances”. Rather, the ECJ found under the CRD, the scope of “where available” to mean that traders only needed to provide such information, where those means of communicating already exist.
Whilst the ECJ recognised the requirement for traders to provide means of communication that enable the consumer to contact the trader quickly and efficiently, it noted that this does not prevent traders from providing other alternative means of communication – such as call-back services.
The ECJ concluded that it was for national courts to determine whether the method of communication fulfils the information requirements, but also to find a “balance” between respecting both consumer protection and traders’ freedom to conduct a business.
The ECJ’s ruling provides a somewhat broad scope to businesses in determining which method(s) of communication they wish to incorporate to allow consumers to contact them. UK businesses will likely welcome such a ruling, given both the rise of new methods of communication and interaction in recent years and the differing requirements across European jurisdictions. As the ECJ confirmed that the CRD precludes national law, its interpretation here will override any contrary obligation in a member states’ national law paving the way for a potentially less onerous obligation on traders.