Businesses that have websites may need to think again about the contact information they provide for users, following a shock ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The reason? The desire of the ECJ to protect the interests of all consumers.
In the course of a case brought by a German consumer group against a German insurance company, which failed to give one of its customers an effective way to communicate with it, the ECJ has issued a ruling that appears to increase the minimum amount of contact information that must be displayed on all business websites. The Court ordered the insurer to make sure its telephone number appeared on its website and that an online contact form was responded to within 60 minutes.
Prior to the ruling, it appeared that a company’s website need only include its address and a contact email address. It would now seem that the requirement to provide a means for consumers to communicate effectively with the operator of the website has more far-reaching implications.
The European E-Commerce Directive requires firms to make the following permanently available on their websites:
The name of the service provider;
The address of the service provider’s establishment; and
Details, including the email address, which allow the service provider to be contacted rapidly and communicated with in a direct and effective manner.
It may be thought that the requirement to allow direct and effective communication just means that any communications sent using a web-based response form must be answered within a reasonable period of time. However, the ECJ has made it clear that such a facility must be in addition to an email address, which in effect appears to make a phone number or fax number essential. This is because whilst the objective of having an effective means of communication may be served in normal circumstances via email, the ECJ envisages cases in which the consumer may not have access to email.
The rules apply to most commercial websites.
The response of the UK Government to the ruling is awaited with interest.
“Whilst it can be argued that providing a prompt response to a communication is just good customer care, the new requirements regarding websites will clearly pose challenges for some organisations,” says <<CONTACT DETAILS>>.
The ruling of the European Court of Justice dealt with the implications of Article 5 (1) of the EU E-Commerce Directive 5th Directive. See