back to article EC probe into murky cross border e-commerce kicks off

The EU’s executive arm has officially launched its probe into the e-commerce sector to find out why Europeans aren’t buying across national borders much. The eCommerce investigation, which was announced in March, aims to identify and stamp out regulatory barriers to crossborder e-commerce. Over the next few weeks, the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "unjustified geoblocking"

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Why don't I buy cross border?

    Because I live on a bloody island with a different currency from everything outside that border. Even if we stipulate flat exchange rates, the postage and delay does it every time.

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

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: Why don't I buy cross border?

      "I want instant interwebs gratification, and I want it *now*."

      That'll attract a £2.99 delivery charge, and from your bank a "non-sterling transaction fee".

    2. yoganmahew

      Re: Why don't I buy cross border?

      "Because I live on a bloody island with a different currency from everything outside that border."

      I too live on an island, but I am geoblocked cross-border from the currency that I use and forced to use an antediluvian currency instead of my nice shiny modern one, now with new technology. And a shiny new building with only a few riot scratches.

      1. Richard 120

        Re: Why don't I buy cross border?

        Deal with the euro transaction issue by getting a Metro bank account.

        It uses the mastercard exchange rates and doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee for european transactions, it has saved me money on foreign holidays and importing from europe.

        It won't speed up or discount delivery though, but I am very comfortable in going to foreign websites using google translate to turn them into something almost readable and buying things from them.

  3. Piloti

    Has it not occured to anybody that.....

    .... the reason the Belgians don't buy from a Spanish site is they don;t speak Spanish.

    Or is the Commish' going make everybody speak .... er, English ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Has it not occured to anybody that.....

      What a load of rubbish. A lot of Belgians speak enough Spanish to order from a Spanish web site.

      Besides which you can always use one of the webs many free translation services. I've managed to order things in a language that I don't speak (and I don't just mean from the US).

  4. Buzzword

    Exchange fees too

    Some of us have debit or credit cards which charge exorbitant fees on foreign currency transactions. Take the humble Halifax debit card: £1.50 flat fee per transaction plus 2.75% percentage fee. That rather takes the shine off a lot of smaller transactions.

    1. splodge

      Re: Exchange fees too

      I wonder if this will feature in the Commish's enquiries?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Exchange fees too

      Why not use Euros? I thought that was the whole point.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Language, time, etc.

    It is a complex matter. I've gone to Europe gladly for things that I can't get in the UK. There are DVD's and things which aren't sold in the UK, indeed while the UK keeps clamping down on various things and thinks I'm too much of a delicate flower ... then Europe is the only place I CAN go to get stuff.

    I mean ... currently the only place to get a half decent chastity belt now is Germany, with three makers there and one in Belgium. There's another in Italy, but that gets complicated because language is still a considerable barrier. Ever since Hal Higginbottom (Sheffield specialist in female belts) passed away in the late 90's British chastity belt manufacturer took a nosedive and became unreliable. ... and no I'm not joking, this is for real.

    Decent BDSM material HAS to come from abroad. The British greats were forced to go to Europe. DeMask was a British couple now in the Netherlands and House of Gord (may he rest in peace) had to go to America. Thanks to ATVOD, our porn producers are starting to move out as well.

    So, if they look to the likes of Amazon, they'll get one picture, but it is only PART of the picture. There's an awful lot of cross border trade going on ... they're going to be looking for a set of keys in the light when they actually dropped them in that dark patch over yonder.

    If I want a stapler, perhaps a ream of A4 or maybe a box of paperclips, then I can get that in the UK, no problem.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Language, time, etc.

      If I want a stapler, perhaps a ream of A4 or maybe a box of paperclips

      Are we still talking BDSM here?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Language, time, etc.

        Nah, that's what B&Q are for.

        And even Higginbottom's apprentice went to Australia.

        1. frank ly Silver badge

          Re: Language, time, etc.

          You can order Demask products from Target.

          1. msknight Silver badge

            Re: Language, time, etc.

            Methinks you're missing a hyphen!

  6. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    why Europeans aren’t buying across national borders much.

    Have they looked at shipping costs? They're usually enough to wipe out the small price differences, especially once you think about what will happen if you need to return something because it's unsuitable, or for a warranty repair.

    Still, they need jobs for the boys, I suppose. While one bunch are encouraging us to shop locally, reduce food miles, etc. another lot are spending our tax money trying to work out why we don't do more cross-border shopping. D'oh.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Please tell me; what is the shipping cost on a Kindle book? But no - here in Spain I can only buy Kindle books in Spanish from the Spanish Amazon (digital downloads are the same, including the Amazon UK credits that I have on my account). The problems with that are: the Spanish Amazon is in Spanish, the books are in Spanish (and the there are VERY few textbooks about spacecraft design in Spanish) and they want paying in Euros. In addition, they probably don't work on a UK bought Kindle. Don't try to tell me that isn't artificial.

      Oh and why is it I can buy something on the Spanish Amazon in Spain, and they still send it from the UK Amazon distribution centre, but buying the same thing in Amazon UK adds £15 to the postage charge?

      Just to add insult to injury; in both cases I am buying from a "shop" in Luxemburgo!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        here in Spain I can only buy Kindle books in Spanish from the Spanish Amazon

        Your Kindle must be registered to a Spanish address. Change it to a UK address & you can shop foir Uk Kindle books. It's what I do here in France.

  7. cs94njw

    *cough* Amazon Kindle from Germany *cough*

  8. cs94njw

    I just had a weird thought. I assume politicians kept us out of the Euro so we could have a "stronger" currency.

    So, surely, in this time of austerity, they would be encouraging Brits to buy from Europe - coz it'll be cheaper over there.

    Oh... but they're not. Why not?

    Oh, they want us to keep buying from UK businesses.....

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Nigel 11

      FedEx still refused to enter into any discussion about it and started threatening me when I didn't pay the invoice. As it was only about twenty pounds, I paid it, but I feel that the money was effectively extorted out of me, and I have resented FedEx for their disgusting behavior ever since.

      I'd have told them to sue me and be laughed at by the judge. In fact, I might well have counter-sued, alleging barratry on their part (which sadly hasn't been a criminal offense for quite a few years). £20 is small-claims court fodder, no need for a lawyer. But they're also liable for the court fee, and for your damages (such as having to buy another copy of the book because they won't hand over the one you purchased, also the cost of the time they force you to waste).

      In practice a recorded delivery letter threatening legal action if a matter is not resolved in fourteen days is usually sufficient to cause whatever "little Hitler" you are dealing with to hand the matter over to someone slightly more competent and a lot more flexible.

      Anyway, reading this has probably cost them more in profits than the £20 they extorted from you.

  10. Richard Jones 1

    Lets summarise

    Right there is:

    1) Language - everyone please speak and write English (I am sure that the French will agree with that one - NOT!)

    2) Shipping costs

    3) Shipping delays

    4) Guarantees

    5) Trading standards and buyer protection laws

    6) Stupid VAT laws which have just shut down a number of small traders

    7) Weird tax rules

    8) Weird shipping rules.

    9) Currency changes and costs.

    10) Support arrangements includes English language support line.

    There may be a few more but that is my initial set of reasons why I would never

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: Lets summarise

      1. Surprisingly not that difficult. But e.g. Amazon starts in English before they bastardise it into other languages. If all else fails, hail the Google god and machine translation.

      2. With you 100%. How come some sellers can ship across borders for almost zero extra cost, while others want an extra £45!

      3.Depends. Postcode lottery and all that.

      4. The Euro one (min 2 years) is often better than anyone offers anyway (Apple!)

      5. Trading Stadards. Hmm. When I was in Bristol, I accidentally bought something in Gloucester. Not hard when you consider that Bristol's only mall was really in Gloucester. Bristol TS says "not in Bristol; can't help". Glouchester's says " not a Gloucestershire council tax payer; can't help" YMMV

      6. With you 150% What a fuck-up. Also causing us nightmares here.

      7. Really the same as 6.

      8. Depends on the courier really. The fault of the seller for not really trying.

      9. Serves you right for not using the £ :)

      10. Really? You've found an online company that offers support. Fsking hell do tell. WHO!?

      The thing is that you have touched on a few items that get in the way. But WHY THE FUCK can't I PAY FOR a UK Kindle book on the UK Kindle website using a UK account, with a UK address in UK pounds? I wonder how quickly things would change if they told Amazon et al. that people could legally copy their book/video etc. if they refused to allow people to pay for it across birders? (see icon.Time for a relaxing café)

  11. martinusher Silver badge

    Cross border? Try cross platform

    They're a bit slow to catch on. Cross border pricing is just a form of variable pricing that's done everywhere these days, it turns ordinary shopping into a lottery. (...and don't even think about mentioning the complexity of buying tickets for things). Its all about yield management, aka "screwing the customer for everything we thing we can get away with".

    When I'm doing serious on-line shopping I use anonymous computers to stalk the item I'm after because once the online outlet catches on to the fact that its me prices mysteriously rise (I guess Big Data has me identified as 'sucker').

    Some people get off on this sort of thing, they love searching for bargains. The rest of us, the ones who just want to get on with their lives, realize that its just like a casino out there -- the house always wins because it controls the game and it owns the data, they just let a few jackpots out to convince everyone to keep playing.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Oldfogey

      re: Language

      Well, I can manage in French and German well enough to order many things on a website - but definitely not well enough to understand the terms and conditions.

      And certainly not well enough to debate with a support, warranty, or legal department.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: re: Language

        As above; I'm native English but can stagger through conversations in German, Portuguese, and Spanish - and I'll have a go at anything until the natives' ears bleed... but I wouldn't trust myself to read T&Cs in any of those other than English. (And to be honest, even then I'd be a bit dubious.)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: re: Language

          I speak two other European languages well enough to order stuff and understand the T&Cs but for most things I order that's not a problem anyway. Quite frankly most people don't read the T&Cs in their native language. Plus, there's always the interwebs to look for free translation services.

          I've also found that a number of sites will reply to you in English anyway, sometimes using computer generated translations but often in fairly good English.

          In then end I found the money I've saved is worth the risk and so far I have never hit a problem.

  13. David Roberts Silver badge


    This topic pops up just when I have ordered a pair of camp chairs from UK Amazon and the tracking information shows them at a hub in Belgium.

    So I do appear to be shopping cross border.

    I wonder if this shows up in the statistics?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too much bother when you're likely not even to get paid

    You lot seem to have forgotten about the problems of getting paid. For example, I know a lot of UK-based photographers very reluctant to licence to some EU countries, notably Italy, because the buggers don't pay you and it's almost impossible to get redress. Then, some countries (such as France) will do the withholding tax trick, even if you're VAT registered, unless you get a tax exemption form first, which has to be renewed annually, a process which can take SIX WEEKS.

    I'm both Mac consultant and commercial photographer. I happily trade within the UK as a consultant, and outside the EU as a photographer. I avoid trading within the EU whenever possible because of the problems outlined above, plus the moment you get involved in EU VAT-swapping you have to itemise and account for each intra-EU transaction on your VAT return. Bureaucratic hell. Then add on all the costs referred to in other posts. For me, the bother simply isn't worth it.

    Sort that lot out and I'll participate in your utopian Digital Single Market, but not before.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Too much bother when you're likely not even to get paid

      I've never had to jump through hoops to get VAT free when trading with French companies. I gave them my VAT number, they checked it... job done.

      I've also never had problems with Italian companies but there's always the option of demanding payment up-front.

  15. Trigonoceps occipitalis

    Cross Border Trading

    I have a Nespresso machine. In 2009 I looked at the tax free capsule costs because I thought we were being ripped off here. What I found for Eurozone:


    Poland: €0.24

    UK: €0.27

    Netherlands: €0.29

    Portugal: €0.29

    Germany: €0.29

    Italy: €0.31

    Ireland: €0.32

    Cyprus: €0.39

    So, a maximum difference of €30 +vat for 200 capsules. Postage cost - well I don't know but I suspect less than €15 for 200 in a box. (In the UK 200 are delivered free and I recall that the last time I had some posted it was £7 or £8, possibly I'm wrong.)

    Why can't I order from the UK site and pay for postal delivery?

    Why can't I order from Poland, I thought that free markets was what the EC was all about (OK, I didn't)?

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