To mark World Consumer Rights Day earlier this week, the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority organised a conference themed ‘Making digital marketplaces fairer’.
In his welcome address, Parliamentary Secretary for Consumer Protection and Valletta 2018, Deo Debattista, said online shopping was nowadays entwined in consumers’ everyday lives. In fact, more than half the Maltese population opt to shop online for the goods and services they require.
Dr Debattista also spoke about the benefits online shopping offers to consumers who live in a small country like Malta. The 2017 Consumer Conditions Scoreboard rates Malta among the top countries where cross-border online shopping is very popular. Maltese consumers do not only buy from European sellers but also tend to buy from sellers that operate from outside the European Union.
“The limited product choice on our island and competitive prices found online tend to urge consumers to venture more into online shopping,” Dr Debattista noted.
The importance to encourage local retailers to take their business online was also mentioned. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Maltese government was committed to implementing initiatives and policies to encourage Maltese entrepreneurs to enter the digital world as eCommerce presentsed a great opportunity for Small and Medium Enterprises to reach new customers and to increase their profits.
During her address, Helga Pizzuto, chairwoman of the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority, stressed the importance of consumer authorities, consumer associations and the digital market platforms to work together to provide consumers with access to fair and secure markets.
She added: “Digital market places are providing unprecedented choice and convenience to consumers. That the consumer is benefitting from access to a global digital market is confirmed by the steady rise in online sales. This in turn necessitates a review of the safety nets, which need to be in place to ensure that consumers’ rights are safeguarded at all times. The theme of this year’s World Consumer Conference puts the spotlight on this reality”.
During this conference various topics on how digital marketplaces can be fairer for consumers were discussed by foreign and local speakers. One of the main topics concerned dangerous products that may be found on the European market. Such products are reported on the European Alert System (RAPEX), which facilitates the rapid exchange of information between EU Member States and the European Commission.
The RAPEX network collates the notifications of dangerous products from different Member States and makes them available to all the market surveillance authorities in the Member States as well as the public at large. The Market Surveillance Directorate within the MCCAA’s Technical Regulations Division enters around 80 reactions to notifications per year for unsafe products found in other EU countries. Furthermore, these past 10 years this directorate has notified in excess of 200 unsafe products found on the Maltese market.
Other important themes discussed were the obstacles consumers face when they opt to shop online. These include refusal to deliver, unfair variations in prices, payment security, lack of data protection and unclear or misleading information.
Another topic tackled during the conference was the consumers’ right for compensation and the means of redress that consumers may avail themselves of when they encounter problems with online purchases. European Consumer Centres provide European consumers with the required information and assistance to help them resolve cross border disputes.
Taking into consideration the business perspective of online shopping, arepresentative from the business community explained the difficulties online sellers face. Some of these problems concern lack of knowledge on how e-commerce works and how to display and market products on digital marketplaces.
Lack of resources is another factor as the majority of local businesses with two or three employees do everything. Other barriers include delivery costs, different VAT rates, language and costly payment processes. Due to this only a very small amount of Maltese retailers opt to conduct online sales.
The conference helped to encourage ongoing collaboration of all stakeholders with a view to continue providing the best protection to consumers with an ever evolving and dynamic market.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority
Office for Consumer Affairs
MCCAA office hours for the public:
Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 12.30pm
European Consumer Centre Malta
(For complaints against traders in other EU states)
47A, South Street,
Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 3pm.
Tel: 2122 1901
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