March 7, 2021

Ecommerce regulations: Unless there’s Profit in it, it’s a Cross-border Guddle

Dr Peter Mowforth

If I visit my local supermarket on a Sunday morning then the lane where the alcohol is usually sold is screened off. Under Scots law you can’t buy alcohol early on a Sunday. At the same moment, the same supermarket may be delivering a box of groceries to my neighbour that includes a bottle of wine. Given that signing-for is often discretionary then if the box was left in the porch and taken in by a 16 year old then how does the ecommerce delivery fit within the law? It Doesn’t.Countries and groups like the European Union are trying to bring some order to the general area but the current regulations and their implementations in many situations fall a long way behind. In an attempt to remove discrimination for those buying and selling online, the European Commission decided to bring in some new laws and regulations.One new EU proposal has been to lower VAT rates for some types of digital content such as eBooks. Some countries have protested and now face geoblocking by ecommerce suppliers in other EU countries. Such rules are inconsistent between online and offline commerce.Pascal Arimont the Belgian MEP has proposed bringing online and offline commerce into alignment but the technical challenges combined with the views taken by different EU member countries are likely to make this almost impossible to implement.This month, Estonia takes over these member state negotiations. While the Estonians are probably the most competent and informed in the practical adoption of digital technology within Europe, getting harmonised ecommerce trading rules across the 27 nations of Europe is almost certain to fail. The reason is that historically it’s been virtually impossible to bring alignment between nations that place competitive advantage ahead of common needs.

Though well intentioned, the European 'cookie law' led to almost every ecommerce supplier across Europe having to upgrade their websites. The area has not been enforced (we’re not aware of any prosecutions) and with many Government web sites themselves being non-compliant, the European Commission is now in the process of revising the whole area with a revamped Cookie Law. Experts have already raised questions about how it is planned to be implemented (ref).The seriously well-intentioned General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that comes into effect on 15th May 2018 is an attempt to extend and harmonise rules around the protection of personal information. Within the UK, a simplified version (the UK Data Protection Act) has been in operation for almost 20 years. Other European countries have had their own national versions which the commission now wish to align and strengthen. Will it work?, will it be enforced?, and will it genuinely protect the privacy and security of personal data across Europe?The only example I’m aware of where the Governments of Europe have been able to come together to agree and then follow-through on an implementation in this area is when it comes to fining a company that is deemed to have flouted the rules. The recent example with Google (ref) reinforces the idea that it’s only when there is a clear and positive financial gain for everyone in the group to be made that harmony can be achieved.

Latest Posts from the Ecommerce Excellence blog

Want to be informed of upcoming webinars & events?