EU to get tougher on one-market, one-price

New European rules to prevent geo-blocking - charging more for identical goods and services bought on websites in different countries - are due to come into force at the start of December.

24 October 2018
By Connexion journalist

They strengthen existing rules which were being ignored.

A check by Connexion, using virtual private networks to disguise the country of origin, found significant price differences:

  • A week-long booking for a family car from Bordeaux airport was €150 more expensive via the Hertz.co.uk site compared to Hertz.fr.
  • A return booking from Poole to Cherbourg using Brittany Ferries cost €75 more on the French site than if it was made on the UK site.
  • A Marks & Spencer men’s white short-sleeve shirt suitable for the office was €11 more on the French site than on the UK site.

In each case, the web pages were identical, except for the language and the prices.

Companies were warned not to discriminate as early as 2014, when a study of 10,500 sites by the EU’s internal markets commission found widespread price differences.

Websites also refused to allow customers to switch to other country sites to compare prices or to use credit cards from other EU countries to pay for goods. The new rules allow shoppers to switch to other-country sites of the company to compare prices, and allow them to pay by credit cards from any EU country.

Companies will still be able to charge different prices for different markets, but cannot stop customers checking other-country sites for the goods. This is based on the EU Single Market’s aim to let people “shop as a local”.

Geo-blocking by luxury goods makers is often cited: distributors are prevented from selling products in different markets, which will be penalised. Exceptions will still be made for products such as TV programming and financial services and for e-books, where countries such as France have different tax and legal systems.

The European Union updated member states on the rules at September’s ministerial meetings, and will follow up to ensure they are in force.

Policing remains with nation states and there is no clear French authority for consumers to turn to, other than the DGCCRF fraud agency, which acts only in France.

Consumer groups UFC-Que Choisir and the Institut National de la Consommation say they have done no work on this. The European Com­mission said the European Consumer Centre, France (europe-consommateurs.eu) would help.

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