back to article 'Why don't you buy from foreign sites?' asks Commish, snapping on the gloves

The European Commission is to probe the e-commerce sector to find out why people aren’t buying across borders. According to the Commish, despite half of all EU consumers shopping online, only around 15% of them bought from a seller based in another EU country. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager suspects that: “It’s …

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  1. Zippy's Sausage Factory
    Happy

    Who ever thought Interflora would be touted as being from the future?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Interflora

      International ordering with delivery by a business local to the intended recipient was something Interflora got right years back (okay the choice isn't great and you are to some extent buying blind and relying on the local florist to interpret your brief, but at least you can do it). It has always irritated me that many international businesses insist that if you are UK based say, then the only site you can order from is your national site and hence shipping is from the UK and not from their operation local to your stated delivery address.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Interflora

        Yeah, I used to use Interflora / Fleurop a lot when I was in the UK and had a girlfriend in Germany.

    2. Tanuki
      Happy

      Cross-border shipping.....

      I always liked the idea of setting up Interfauna as a competitor to Interflora. So you could send people animals as well as flowers.

      However the legality of facilitating ng cross-border procurement of that crate of rabid Wolverines for your ex-partner as a friendly 'reminder' of your divorce-anniversary could be a bit problematic.

      1. Crisp Silver badge

        Re: Interfauna

        1 Review

        Package contained live bobcat.

        Would buy again.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Cross-border shipping.....

        "Interfauna as a competitor to Interflora."

        You can easily say it with flowers: Send a triffid.

  2. james 68

    Is she daft?

    The answer is quite simple - 13% of people buy from foreign sites because 13% of people can comfortably understand foreign languages.

    I for example can handily communicate in French or German but buggered if I could understand Greek or Polish, hence I would not buy from those countries due to the fact that while I might want to order say a graphics card, but in all likelyhood would place an order for a pallet of jaffa cakes by mistake.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Happy

      I might want to order say a graphics card, but in all likelyhood would place an order for a pallet of jaffa cakes by mistake.

      Sound like winning situation to me.

    2. JamesThorpe

      Amazon

      I don't speak a word of German, but the similarities between amazon.de and amazon.co.uk coupled with Chrome translating the pages made ordering a bunch of Carcassonne expansions easy peasy. And far cheaper than their English language couterparts.

      Interestingly, the only postage marks on the box were Royal Mail, indicating that there must be enough people in the UK ordering from amazon.de for them to ship everything over together, then post it as normal.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Amazon

        I did this some time back then when I wanted to buy some mp3 from amazon.co.uk it took me to amazon.de so be careful ;-)

        Amazon did sort it and the support person was very good.

    3. PhilipJ

      umm, if a shop ships to foreign countries, it usually has at least an English version of its page. Quite often other languages as well.

      In the last 6 months, I've ordered more stuff from Germany than from shops in my country - simply because they did not have the products that I wanted, or had very long shipment times whereas the German shops had everything available in their warehouses, ready to be shipped.

      The only thing holding back cross-border commerce in my opinion are worries about possible issues with warranty claims.

    4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      She is daft all right

      The language barrier is one reason.

      The other one is that amazon crosses the barrier massively now. You do not need to go to a foreign language site, you can get the same item from amazon marketplace in your own language.

      Looking at my purchases over the last 1 year, a significant number of them while bought on amazon.co.uk ended up coming from Germany: Daughter's scooter for her birthday (real one with inflatable tyres, not the sh*t you get from halfords), shelves, tools, electricals, bathroom hooks - you name it. One or two things came from France and a couple of smaller items from Holland.

      The sole reason for me to look at foreign sites in the past has been artificial market barriers. You cannot get continentally aligned (for Left Hand Drive) headlights and spares as well as winter spares such as pre-heaters, etc in the UK. That is quite funny as some of the are made in the UK too. That is mostly gone now as well (again, courtesy of amazon marketplace), so why bother?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: She is daft all right

        "You cannot get continentally aligned (for Left Hand Drive) headlights and spares as well as winter spares such as pre-heaters, etc in the UK. That is quite funny as some of the are made in the UK too"

        Because the market for them in the UK is small, so once made they are boxed on pallets ready to truck to the continent. It's really not worth the manufacturer setting up a system to sell them directly to endusers in the UK, nor would most UK distributors want to take a pallet load "on spec".

    5. Lars Silver badge

      It would surprise me if sites who want to sell within the EU did not provide English as a choice on their site. But I will agree about the postal part and the payment, I don't like PayPal. The address problem seems to be a more of a US problem where you have to enter the "State" than a EU problem. Then again if you don't know the name of the site then you won't use it. Much to improve no doubt.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        @Lars

        It would surprise me if sites who want to sell within the EU did not provide English as a choice on their site.

        You obviously never ever had to deal with the French.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: @Lars

          "You obviously never ever had to deal with the French."

          Or french who decide they can speak english perfectly well thank you very much and don't need native english speakers correcting them.

          (Chinglish is a walk in the park by comparison. I had to rewrite French TRT technical manuals in the 1980s because the ones they supplied the telco I worked for were gibberish. TRT were "not amused" when they found out.)

    6. Pete 2 Silver badge

      > 13% of people can comfortably understand foreign languages.

      13% of people know about Google translate AND have the nous to find the same product described in their native language AND manage to get a decent price for inter-country delivery charges AND trust "foreign" postal / courier services.

      Sounds like a pretty high percentage, to me.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. John Hoar

          I am no longer infected.

    7. GrumpyOldMan

      Hey - just think how many of the "Fuill-moon, Half-moon, Total Eclipse" jokes you could do! And c'mon - they'd be Jaffa Cakes!! Ok they may not fit on the motherboard properly, but hey....

    8. Dazed and Confused Silver badge
      Flame

      is she daft?

      Well, on the balance of probability I'd say yes :-)

      But what she is saying is in direct contradiction of of the policy implemented by her predecessors. When I complain that Amazon France or Germany wouldn't see me things that were in stock in France or German but not in stock in the UK, whereas car companies have been fined millions for refusing cross border sales I was told that the commission didn't feel there was anything wrong with Amazon helping to create an artificial shortage in the UK for marketing reason. Go figure.

      Fortunately other companies in German where more than happy to help me out and sell me what they had in stock.

      So, please put your own house in order before giving the public a hard time for this.

    9. Alan Brown Silver badge

      13%

      Most intra-EU trading is done in english.

      The big issues are what was raised by the Commish - traders limiting access, but also by banks slapping swingeing surchanges on when there are different currencies involved and the rather minor issue of "support" - particularly if it means tech have to come from the source country or kit has to be sent back there.

      As a UK buyer I've been amused on more than on occasion by a UK reseller going ballistic upon being told that we're buying off another supplier in the EU - many seem to think that they have "exclusive UK sales rights" and we aren't legally allowed to cross the channel for stuff. My response in all cases has been "Feel free to take us to court - if you can find a lawyer who will take your case on."

  3. Dominion

    I have and will buy services from another EU, or Non EU company for that matter, but I'm unlikely to buy physical products due to the delay in receiving them and the cost / hassle factor of sending them back if they're faulty.

    1. Pisartis

      And there's no way I'm going to sell digital services to another EU country, because I'm buggered if I'm going to register for VAT in 28 countries.

      UK, fine. Rest of the world, fine. The rest of the EU can take a running jump.

  4. The Crow From Below

    "The European Commission is to probe the e-commerce sector to find out why people aren’t buying across borders."

    Isn't it obvious?

    I live in Danmark, we have a fantastic postal system as does the UK, but still It takes around 3 days to get a package from the UK to my door. If I order from Danmark I get it next day. That's point number one.

    Point number 2 is on shipping restrictions, parcel force (for example) refused to send a package to me from my parents because it contained some aftershave in it, citing restrictions on the aeroplane...I took the same package back in my hand luggage via easy jet.

    Point 3 is on delays when the country does not have a quick postal service (kind of the same as point 1 but 3-4 days is acceptable, 3-4 weeks to get a package from Spain to Danmark is not).

    Point 4 is on delays caused by the tax offices in both countries seeing if they can in anyway get money out of you (something I have had to fight many times).

    Point 5 is on the fact that my bank will charge me an extortionate rate for foreign payments. This is the most common reason for not wanting to purchase across borders when on line, it costs more.

    So there is my 5 point report on the matter, can I have my €10mil consultancy fee now?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      can I have my €10mil consultancy fee now?

      no no no, you still don't get it. To earn that fee, you need to be in the right position, with the right job title. That said, we thank you for your valuable, FOC insight. After all, we are all a part of this sharing, crowsourcing economy, right?

  5. WylieCoyoteUK
    Holmes

    As someone who has tried to order goods from Amazon's German website, for delivery to someone in Germany, the language might be a small issue?

    As for delivery, you might get it quicker from china than France.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "As for delivery, you might get it quicker from china than France."

      My wife buys a lot of stuff from China for her handicrafts. Shipping times are variable from a few days to a couple of months. But the P&P is almost invariably cheaper than sourcing from a local UK supplier. Even when the product is the same price (hah!), UK P&P shoves the price above importing from China.

      It's always small, low value packages for personal use, so as far as we know, know VAT or other taxes are payable.

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Alert

    I think I can see where this is going...

    So how would e-commerce sites feel about being made to translate everything into 20-odd different languages?

    1. james 68

      Re: I think I can see where this is going...

      I recon your right, I also recon the silly hag has shares in an interpretation/translation company that she will happily recommend to sort out this imaginary mess.

      1. Quentin North
        Thumb Down

        Re: I think I can see where this is going...

        I take exception to your characterisation. The commissioner is not a "silly hag", which is a subjective, offensive and derogatory personal insult based on sex. This has no place in a civilised comment or discussion.

        1. Dave Harvey
          Facepalm

          Re: I think I can see where this is going...

          You expect "civilised comment or discussion" on El Reg?

          1. james 68

            Re: I think I can see where this is going...

            He is entitled to his opinion just as I am entitled to mine, since we do not (yet) live in a stazi state I stand by my opinion and could not give a damn what anyone else thinks of it.

  7. Blank-Reg
    Flame

    Several times I've tried to buy from EU countries and several times found the postage costs push the price over what It'd cost me domestically. I suggest to the EU apparatchiks that including state and non-state run postal 'services' would be a good idea

  8. fattybacon

    Amazon

    I was just totting up my Amazon buying experiences (UK, US, CA, FR, DE & JP) so far, the other day and marvelling at how easy it was, my browser translates every page pretty well, and they keep a consistent experience so even without auto-translation I've managed a successful purchase.

    The problem is not usually Amazon, it's the suppliers who geo-restrict things, and often Amazon say this item can be shipped to you, you can even filter on ship internationally, but when you finally get your basket to the check you will be stopped.

    I just bought a handheld games console from France, arrived in 4 working days, was £30 cheaper than amazon uk including delivery.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Amazon

      Amazon have got really bad recently. I often buy from the UK (where a DVD costs £2.50 instead of the 15€ here in Spain). Also Amazon UK has so many things that Amazon Spain does not.

      Now they smack an instant charge on buying anything, and at the last minute say it can't be shipped to Spain, with a helpful link. The helpful link says that it can be shipped to Spain. If some Bozo came here, I'd explain the problems to him personally.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Amazon

      > The problem is not usually Amazon, it's the suppliers who geo-restrict things, and often Amazon say this item can be shipped to you, you can even filter on ship internationally, but when you finally get your basket to the check you will be stopped.

      Strange, my experience is the reverse.

      On a number of occasions, I have tried to buy from sellers on Amazon who state that they ship globally, only to be told by Amazon's website at the very last moment that it can't be shipped to me. Usually it is CDs or DVDs. It's becoming a bigger and bigger problem.

      Also, this new legislation that they were talking about regarding VAT being charged at the buyer's country rather than the sellers is a big problem for small businesses. I can't see that helping much.

      1. dorsetknob
        Facepalm

        Re: Amazon

        I think your find Amazon already charge Vat at the rate in the country of purchase ie 20% in the UK (as Shown on my last invoice) and then pay Vat in sucksomburg at the lower rate of 15% and i bet they pocket the difference

        1. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: Amazon

          The VAT rules are:

          They charge VAT in their home country (Luxembourg), unless their sales to the EU country in question are above the distance selling threshold for that country, which can be set at either €100,000 or €35,000, or the approximate equivalent in local currency. It is £70,000 for the UK and Isle of Man. For digital goods (apps, kindle books, mp3s etc), they must charge VAT in the customer's country regardless of sales level, and it is the same for goods subject to excise duty such as alcohol and tobacco, though I don't think Amazon sells them.

          As Amazon likely sells more than £70,000 of stuff every hour, never mind every year, they do have to charge UK VAT.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Amazon

      "I was just totting up my Amazon buying experiences (UK, US, CA, FR, DE & JP) so far, the other day and marvelling at how easy it was, [...]"

      Bought a CD from Amazon Japan - not cheap but not available in the UK. Their only shipping option for anything was courier - not cheap. When it arrived it fortunately was just under the UK Customs threshold. Otherwise the courier's paperwork informed me that they would have charged me £50 for clearing it and collecting the fee.

      I never buy anything expensive from the USA for the same reason - even ordinary post can incur a Royal Mail "collection" fee of double figures. There's also the risk of a USA Amazon Partner labelling it as a "gift" at a much reduced value - and it's you who is then in trouble with HMRC for a false declaration.

      Buying a DVD from Amazon France cost a small fortune in delivery charges - and it wasn't express either.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Amazon

        "When it arrived it fortunately was just under the UK Customs threshold. Otherwise the courier's paperwork informed me that they would have charged me £50 for clearing it and collecting the fee."

        Other couriers have more reasonable policies. DHL for example.

        The initial courier charge may end up a fraction higher, but not having to stump up £50 in ridiculous fees makes up the difference.

        I'm sure that they can't justify this kind of rent-seeking, but I also suspect that noone can be bothered taking it to small claims to fight it.

    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Amazon

      "I was just totting up my Amazon buying experiences"

      So was I. 25% of the stuff I've bought on Amazon has turned out to be counterfeit. Ebay polices this shit. Scamazon don't.

  9. DrXym Silver badge

    Visit websites and it becomes all too obvious

    In this order:

    1) The site doesn't post to international addresses, even in the EU

    2) Or if it does, the cost of P&P is silly expensive

    3) Or the address details doesn't let you enter a foreign address

    4) Or there is a problem processing the payment.

    Ironically for small items it's often easier to order stuff from Hong Kong than it is from somewhere else in the EU.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Visit websites and it becomes all too obvious

      Correct. It costs too much and takes too long to receive the goodies.

      I have bought from the continent when I have had no other option, or when I have access to a delivery address in the same country, but on the whole it is simply uneconomic to do so, particularly for toys.

      Also, I want instant gratification and I want it *now*.

    2. GrumpyOldMan

      Re: Visit websites and it becomes all too obvious

      "Ironically for small items it's often easier to order stuff from Hong Kong than it is from somewhere else in the EU."

      And a damn site quicker! From recent experience.

      As someone pointed out though - I can but something from Amazon Prime and have it next day - from Amazon SARL - in France. But you try buying through Amazon.fr and see how long it takes.

  10. Ryan Kendall

    Time & Cost

    When ordering I don't want to have to wait for a longer delivery or pay more for shipping.

    If you can get it cheaper local, why pay more?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Time & Cost

      And if you can't get it cheaper locally, it's a sign that the local market isn't working right anyway.

    2. Sooty

      Re: Time & Cost

      yep, if i can buy something in my own currency, from somewhere that I know abides by our country's sales laws that is coming quickly from near me, and paying local delivery costs then I'm not going to go elsewhere.

      I occasionally get things from other european countries, but only when they aren't available locally

  11. leon clarke

    What's the definition of a foreign site?

    Isn't amazon.co.uk technically in Luxemburg?

    In which case many brits buy from foreign sites. I suspect many other national Amazon sites are the same.

    (And I think there are EU countries without national Amazon sites, for whom Amazon insists on charging excessive postage fees)

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