June 23, 2011, 4:11 PM

European web shoppers get more return rights, but no free return shipping

A new law approved today gives consumers 14 days to change their minds.

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European lawmakers today approved amendments to the European Union’s Consumer Rights Directive that would give consumers 14 days to change their minds about online purchases. The existing rule gives consumers in the union’s 27 member states seven days to change their minds about the purchases.

The approved changes also require online retailers to clearly disclose to online shoppers the return costs of goods bought on the web, in hopes of helping consumers make informed choices about purchases. But the parliament earlier backed off a proposal that would have required web retailers to pay for return shipping for purchases of 40 euros (US$57) or more. That proposed changed was opposed by retailing groups.

Sales of digital goods such as music and film downloads are exempt from the new return rules.

The European Parliament voted 615-16 today in favor of the changes, with 16 abstentions. The changes now go to the EU’s Council of Ministers for approval, which likely will take place in July, according to a statement from the parliament. EU member states would have two years to implement the new rules.

“As current EU rules on consumer rights predate the digital revolution, consumers today are poorly protected when shopping online,” the parliament says in a statement. “At the same time, businesses cite legislative differences among member states as the main reason for not selling across borders.”

It is unclear whether the amendments will affect U.S.-based merchants that ship to Europe from the U.S.; an EU spokesman provided no immediate comment.

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