ECC Finland received more than 2,600 new contacts from Finnish consumers in 2014, which was 44 % more than the year before. That said, our staff has been very busy but we managed to keep processing times steady. 50 % of cases we processed were settled which represents good European average in our Network. The topics Finnish consumers complained the most were related to online buying and air travelling.
Free trial subscription traps caused the most complaints, and Estonian Xellim alone caused 500 complaints in this area. Flight bookings, cancellations and delays were the second most common theme for a complaint to ECC Finland. In general issues related to online buying of products and services kept us busy.
Happy endings in online shopping disputes
One of the cases referred to the European Consumer Centre Finland in 2014 concerned an English company that had failed to deliver EUR 2,000 worth of goods ordered by a Finnish consumer. Another matter that required the ECC’s intervention involved the use of a discount voucher in an online store. These case studies and other examples of how we helped Finnish consumers to get their money back last year can be found in ECC Finland’s newsletter.
You can often avoid nasty surprises simply by being vigilant. The key is choosing a reputable trader. It is always best to pay for online purchases by credit card. If the trader fails to deliver your goods and refuses to give you your money back, you can ask your credit card company for a refund. According to the terms and conditions of most banks, similar principles apply to purchases made by debit card.
Tips for safe online shopping can be found in the E-Commerce 2014 report published by the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net ) in November, which was accompanied by four checklists for consumers, one of which focuses on online shopping. Also several instructions and checklists for safe online buying can be found on our website www.ecc.fi/en which was renewed last year.
The many pitfalls of online shopping
The majority of complaints ECC Finland received in 2014 related to free or inexpensive product samples or trials that consumers had ordered online and that had later morphed into expensive ongoing or fixed-term subscriptions. In most cases the sample was a slimming or beauty product advertised on Facebook. Problems relating to product samples were also common in other European countries, and it is likely that these problems will continue in 2015.
Another popular topic in complaints received in 2014 was various kinds of consumer surveys and online questionnaires. The web pages of these surveys led consumers to believe that they would be eligible for introductory gifts and prizes, such as expensive running shoes. The websites gave the impression that each participant would be given a product of their choice as long as they answered the questionnaire and paid a few euros. In reality, it appears that only one participant in each survey actually received a product. Moreover, taking part in the survey obligated consumers to acquire a membership for which a fee became payable if it was not terminated by a certain deadline. Information about the membership and the associated fees was given extremely ambiguously, and most consumers did not realise what they had signed up for until they noticed charges to their accounts.
Based on our experience, products advertised as free on the internet usually end up costing the consumer something sooner or later. You should therefore think carefully before you fill in your debit or credit card details on consumer surveys or other similar websites.
Misleading car evaluation websites brought in close to 100 complaints. Consumers received invoices after ordering a seemingly free-of-charge evaluation report. There was no cooling-off-period according to the service provider. The company also argued that the contract came into force once the consumer had given a car registration number and an e-mail address. The Finnish Consumer Ombudsman interfered and consumers were advised to make a reclamation and refuse payment of the invoice that was based on a clearly misleading campaign material. As of 13 June 2014 there is no need to make an assessment based on the misleading nature of the offer; based on the Consumer Rights Directive consumers are allowed to cancel if and when they have not explicitly requested that the trader starts the evaluation before the end of the cooling-off-period. We have continued to receive complaints about car valuation services this year, and the instructions we compiled in October 2014 are still valid.
European Consumer Centre’s support for holidaymakers
Similarly to previous years, travel was once again one of the most common topics of complaints in 2014. Most Finnish consumers’ complaints related to air travel.
One case that we dealt with involved a situation where a consumer’s luggage had been delayed when he returned home from holiday. The ECC-Net helped the consumer to get reimbursement from the British airline. We also assisted another consumer who was trying to get a refund from a Swedish travel agency after the travel agency cancelled their trip. More details on these cases can be found in ECC Finland’s newsletter.
Travel and online shopping are likely to keep us busy in 2015 as well, and we are here to help consumers throughout Europe. The annual report 2014 for ECC Network will be published later this year.