EC direct selling consultation may protect supplements' reputation

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union Eu

The EC yesterday launched a communication on the EU Distance
Selling Directive aimed at preventing rogue traders exploiting
loopholes created by new technologies and eroding consumer
confidence in products commonly sold in this way, including

Distance selling is defined as any sales transaction in which the customer does not see the product in advance. This includes dietary supplements sold through catalogues, or via the Internet - both of are common channels - or even through tele-shopping, or mobile phone commerce.

"The distance selling directive applies to most contracts where a consumer and a supplier running an organised distance-selling scheme do not meet face-to-face at any stage until after the contract has been concluded,"​ said the European Commission in an information document published yesterday.

According to Euromonitor International, direct sales (including mail order, Internet, party selling and door-to-door) accounted for 6.8 per cent of the Western European supplements market in 2005 - up from five per cent in 1997.

"What I am most worried about are possible loopholes or areas of legal uncertainty created by new and fast-growing distance selling products and technologies, which might create confusion for consumers and serious business alike, or be exploited by rogue traders,"​ said commissioner for health and consumer protection Markus Kyprianou.

This is particularly pertinent for supplements since the rise of distance selling has been seized upon by some opportunists operating bogus schemes, selling sub-standard products, or making false or exaggerated claims.

Kyprianou also said that since the directive was introduced in 1997, some member states have introduced more stringent measures than others, which "may have led to differences in the degree of protection"​, and "divergences and distortions in the internal market"​.

The respectable side of the industry is keen to keep a lid on such activities, to prevent all supplements being tarred with the brush of untrustworthiness.

As well as being more convenient for consumers who may not have the time to visit specialist supplement stores on the high street, the Internet also provides greater opportunities to educate about ingredients and research into their benefits on health.

Some companies in the sector - both ingredients suppliers and finished product manufacturers - have launched consumer-oriented websites to help consumers researching products.

While marketers may also have educational schemes for retailers, they rely on the a third party to pass on the message to the consumer.

The aim of the EU legislation is to set out legal rights for consumers in the EU to ensure a high level of protection, and prevent the erosion of consumer confidence.

The rights forseen by the directive include: Provision of comprehensive information before purchase; confirmation of that in a durable medium such as written confirmation; the consumer's right to cancel within seven days; a right to refund; timely delivery of goods; a non-validity of any waiver of the rights or obligations provided for under the directive.

The consultation on distance selling will be open until November 2006, after which a summary of responses will be published on the Commission's website. These, and other considerations, will be used to assess whether and how the consumer regulatory framework should be revised.

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