E-COMMERCE: IT IS NOT MANDATORY TO PROVIDE A TELEPHONE NUMBER FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE
The Court of Justice of the European Union, by issuing the decision dated July 10, 2019, did not recognize the obligation – for Amazon EU, as for any other e-commerce platform – to make available to the consumer a telephone number before the conclusion of a contract.
The main subject of the decision in question is the e-commerce giant Amazon EU, which was brought before the German courts by the Federal Union of Power Communities and Consumer Associations (‘the Federal Union’). The Federal Union asked to ascertain Amazon’s failure – in this case, in relation to the website www.amazon.de – to comply with the legal obligation to provide consumers with effective means of contact with the online platform.
According to the German Federal Union, in particular, Amazon’s callback service did not comply with the information requirements laid down by law, since the consumer has to go through several steps to get in touch with an interlocutor of that company. The infringement therefore relates to the German law which requires the trader – before concluding a distance or off-premises contract – to provide his telephone number in any event.
The German Federal Court of Justice, before which the case was finally brought, asked the Court of Justice whether the Consumer Rights Directive (EU Directive 83/2011) precludes such national legislation and whether the trader is obliged to activate a telephone or fax line or a new e-mail address to enable consumers to contact him. The Federal Court also referred the matter to the EU Court of Justice to determine whether an e-commerce platform such as Amazon could use different means of communication, such as an instant messaging or telephone callback system.
In its judgment of 10 July 2019, the EU Court ruled that the Directive precludes such national legislation, since the Directive does not in any case oblige the trader to activate a telephone line, or fax line, or to create a new e-mail address to allow consumers to contact him. The directive requires that consumers be informed of such means of communication only if the trader has already made them available. At the same time, the Luxembourg courts found that the directive requires the trader to make available to the consumer a means of communication which guarantees direct and effective communication, in order to ensure a high level of consumer protection, consumer information and consumer security in transactions with traders.
The possibility for the consumer to contact the trader quickly and to communicate effectively with him is of fundamental importance for the protection and effective enforcement of the consumer’s rights and, in particular, the right of withdrawal. However, the Court noted that a fair balance must be struck between a high level of consumer protection and the competitiveness of undertakings, as set out in that directive, while respecting the freedom to conduct a business of the entrepreneur, as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Consequently, the Court held that it is a matter of national courts to assess whether the means of communication made available to the consumer are capable of safeguarding the consumer’s rights, since it is not in any event mandatory to provide a telephone number and the operator is able to prepare and use other means of communication, provided that they are effective.