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5. Delivery, products and payment

5.1. Delivery

Of the 305 purchases made, a total of 288 products were delivered. This represents a delivery rate of 94%. This is a very significant improvement from the previous 2003 report[49]where the delivery rate was 66%, with 75 products delivered out of 114 purchased. The improvement in delivery rate entails that for a total of 305 purchases 87 more products[50]have been delivered. According to the Consumer Conditions Scoreboard[51], perceptions seem to be a major barrier to cross-border e-commerce. Among consumers who have not made a cross-border distance purchase, 49% are put off by expected delivery problems. The above-mentioned results show that this perception is now unfounded and will hopefully play a role in boosting consumer confidence in cross-border e-commerce.

In most of the cases where the product was not delivered, it was unclear why there was no delivery. In the few cases where it was clear, the reasons varied. In one case the trader cancelled the order because the ordered product was out of stock. In another case the delivery was unsuccessful and the package was returned to the trader. The trader asked the Mystery Shopper if it was possible to send the parcel to another address and requested an additional EUR 6 to re-send the product. In this particular case, the Mystery Shopper opted not to pay the additional EUR 6 and asked for a refund.

Fig. 21 below shows that almost 50% of the 288[52] purchases were delivered within the week. The average delivery time for an order was 10 days, which is 1 day less than in the 2003 report[53]. The longest delivery time was 73 days compared to 67 in 2003[54]. The 73-day delivery time was experienced by a Bulgarian Mystery Shopper who purchased a garment from an Irish web trader. One must keep in mind that these figures do not take into account the products that were not delivered.

Fig. 21 Days between order and delivery
Fig. 21 Days between order and delivery

According to article 7 of the Distance Selling Directive[55], “Unless the parties have agreed otherwise, the supplier must execute the order within a maximum of 30 days from the day following that on which the consumer forwarded his order to the supplier”. In 26% of the purchases there was no information about delivery time, therefore those purchases should have been delivered within 30 days[56]. Of the 2% of purchases that took more than 30 days to be delivered, half had no information about delivery time and should therefore have been delivered within the 30-day time limit. This 1% compares to 4% in 2003[57], which represents a reduction of 75% in the number of traders that failed to comply with the Directive.

5.2. The products

After the products were delivered, the packages were opened to verify if the deliveries were in conformity with the orders and to check if the products were defective[58]. As illustrated in Fig. 22 below, the results were very positive.

99% of the delivered goods were in conformity with the order. In the 4 cases where the product was considered not to be in conformity, the reasons given varied. Examples include that the product received did not correspond to the product ordered (in one case, a black plastic race watch was delivered instead of the steel grey ordered) or that only one out of two products ordered was delivered.

Only 1% of the products delivered were considered to be defective. For example, a book bought by a Polish Mystery Shopper[59] from an English trader had a minor defect on the cover. However, one must bear in mind that the products weren’t used and that products that were sealed (e.g. CDs and computer software) were not opened.

Fig. 22 The products
Fig. 22 The products

5.3. Payment

Although other payment options might have been available, it was recommended for this study that all purchases be paid for using credit cards[60], as this is the method of payment most widely recommended by the ECC-Network. Credit cards often offer protection against fraud and provide chargeback[61].

5.3.1. Time of payment

The amount of time it takes for the trader to withdraw the purchase amount depends on the trader’s policy. The pie chart below shows that 90%[62] of the traders withdrew the payment from the credit card within the first week after the order was made. The average time it took the trader to withdraw payment was 2 days, which is less than in the 2003 report[63], where the average time was 5 days.

Fig. 23 Days between order and payment
Fig. 23 Days between order and payment

Although there is no obligation for the trader to deliver the products within a fixed number of days after the credit card has been charged, it is interesting to note the average time from payment to delivery and to see how this has developed since the 2003 report[64]. Fig. 24 shows that 62% of the goods were delivered within one week after the credit card had been charged and a total of 89% were delivered within two weeks. The average time from the payment being withdrawn to the goods being delivered was 8 days, which is longer than the average time in 2003[65], where it took 6 days. This may be due, in part, to delivery to and from Norway and Iceland, as in those cases products have to be cleared by customs. The longest time from payment date to delivery date was 73 days. What is very interesting to note is that 16 traders (6%) delivered the products before they withdrew payment.

Fig. 24 Days between payment and delivery
Fig. 24 Days between payment and delivery

5.3.2. Unexpected costs

According to the Distance Selling Directive[66] the consumer should be provided with the total cost of the transaction prior to the conclusion of the contract. This means that the consumer should be informed about the full price of the product, including taxes and delivery costs. The consumer should also receive written confirmation and the total cost announced should be the amount charged. There should be no hidden costs for the consumer.

The prices initially quoted and advertised on the trader’s websites corresponded to the final prices charged to the Mystery Shoppers. And yet in 7% of the cases, the final amount paid was not the amount the Mystery Shopper expected it would be. The reasons for the discrepancies varied. Some of the unexpected costs seem to be inherent to cross-border shopping, like currency issues, uncertainties about the amount of tax that will need to be paid and unexpected fees tied to customs clearance in cases concerning Norway and Iceland. There is clearly room for improvement in this area, as consumers should know exactly how much they will have to pay when buying a product across borders online. The fact that this is not the case could have a negative impact on consumer confidence and hinder the further development of cross-border e-commerce in the internal market. As the examples below illustrate, most of the unforeseen or additional costs were beyond the trader’s control:

[49] Cf. the 2003 report, p.11 (see footnote 1).

[50] Note: The delivery rate was 94,42% which means 288 products out of 305 were delivered. 66% of 305 = 201 products. 288 – 201 = 87.

[51] Cf. the Consumer Conditions Scoreboard, p.15 (see footnote 1).

[52] Note:Mystery Shoppers kept track of the date when the product was available (e.g. for pick up at the post office) and when the product was actually received (e.g. picked up at the post office). When the date the product was available was not provided, the date the product was received was used for this statistic.

[53] Cf. the 2003 report, p.11 (see footnote 1).

[54] Ibid.

[55] Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 1997 on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts.

[56] See section 4.3. “Information on delivery”.

[57] Cf. the 2003 report, p.11 (see footnote 1).

[58] See section 4.5.3. “Legal warranty”.

[59] See footnote 18.

[60] Note: Online third party payment methods, such as ClickBank or PayPal, were considered to be credit card payments for the purposes of this project.

[61] The chargeback option can be provided under the contract with the bank or under national law.

[62] Note: This figure was calculated based on the number of payments made, i.e. 304 (one order was delivered and returned but the credit card was never charged).

[63] Cf. the 2003 report, p.12 (see footnote 1).

[64]  Ibid., p. 12.

[65]  Ibid., p. 12.

[66] Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 1997 on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts.

[67] Section 4.2.2. “VAT and customs”.

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This page forms part of the publication "ONLINE CROSS-BORDER MYSTERY SHOPPING – STATE OF THE e-UNION" as chapter 4 of 8.
– STATE OF THE e-UNION" as the preface.
– STATE OF THE e-UNION" as appendix -4.
Version no. 1.0, 2011-08-31
© The Competition and Consumer Authority