Catalogue body lashes out at EU retail proposals

A trade group that represents the catalogue and mail order market has become the latest retail body to condemn EU proposals for a change in consumer buying laws.

The Catalogue Exchange (CatEx) is calling on the EU to amend or abandon proposed modifications to the Consumer Rights Directive, which could see retailers forced to sell into all countries within the EU and offer free returns.

CatEx represents more than 220 companies in the direct commerce sector — many of which are SMEs — and is worried about the impact these changes could have on the industry.

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It’s now calling on the EU Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) committee to urgently consider its views and those of other industry associations in Europe that are opposing the changes.

Although supporters of the amendments say it will enhance the rights of consumers, CatEx argues that it could reduce consumer choice and lead to consumer confusion and frustration.It claims to be “particularly alarmed” by Article 17, which could force retailers to offer free returns.

“Unless our industry raises serious and loud objections, it could soon be mandatory to refund returns postage costs on any order over €40 (£35), from any EU country,” said Tim Curtis, CatEx deputy chairman and managing director for Northern Europe at apparel cataloguer Lands’ End.

“We believe this change would both hinder the development of cross-border trade and disproportionately affect smaller direct commerce businesses, thereby reducing choice for the consumer and, in the longer run, creating upward pressure on prices,” he added.

Curtis also says the group is concerned about the impact on its members’ profitability in the UK market.

“Some of our members already offer free returns on all orders, but many only do this on selected products, or as a promotional offer, and certainly not to customers ordering from countries where they lack the scale or logistics for a low cost returns service,” he said.

According to the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), which has also put up resistance to the proposals, the e-commerce industry could be stung for an extra €10 billion (£8.8 billion) a year in delivery charges if the amendments go through.

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