June 10, 2011, 1:13 PM

The European Union backs away from requiring online retailers to pay for product returns

But the EU still would give consumers 14 days to change their minds about purchases.

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European officials are backing off proposed rules that would have required online merchants to pay return shipping for certain purchases and also to sell goods to consumers in all countries that are part of the European Union. The proposed changes still must win final approval from the European Parliament. The rules do not apply to downloaded items.

Amendments to the EU’s consumer rights directive would have required retailers in the union’s 27 member states to pay for return shipping for purchases of 40 euros (US$57) or greater.

Under an agreement reached this week between members of Parliament and the European Commission, however, retailers no longer must cover such costs. The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union.

Instead, retailers must clearly disclose to online shoppers the return costs of goods bought on the web, in hopes of helping consumers make informed choices about purchases. “Parliament’s negotiators hope that this will encourage competition among companies, to the benefit of consumers,” Parliament says in a prepared statement.

The proposed rule changes, though, keep intact the requirement that consumers have 14 days to decide whether to return items, up from seven days. But the proposed rule changes would drop the requirement that any EU e-retailer must do business with any consumer in any EU nation, which means e-retailers would not be able to choose which markets they wish to sell to. Retailers would have to clearly inform consumers about why deliveries are not made to specific countries.

It was unclear when the proposed rules would go to final approval. The statement from Parliament indicated that final approval would come no later than the end of July.

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