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E-commerce Law in Germany: the nuts and bolts

The German market can indeed be challenging in some respects. To successfully run your e-business, you should understand the laws that control it. It doesn’t matter whether sales are made to entrepreneurs or consumers. The German Civil Code lays out a series of obligations. In that case, there may be questions about which legal requirements apply to e-commerce in Germany. 

In this article, you will learn about the significant legal challenges facing German e-commerce. You will also know how you can approach selling legally and safely in this country.

Check out our other article “There’s no getting around the German e-commerce” laws by clicking here! Additionally, you can read more about The German Packaging Art to learn more about VerpackG in Germany!

How does the situation look?

Globally, e-commerce businesses have increased dramatically in recent years, so it isn’t surprising to see a corresponding increase in e-commerce regulations. It is common for laws and regulations to be complex and to vary greatly from one country to another. Due to the rate of technological advancement around the world, it is particularly important for you to remember that laws are fluid and subject to change, and you should become familiar with and gain a basic understanding of those laws and regulations that apply to your business. To adapt to the new digital age, Germany has created legal and regulatory frameworks.

Numerous information requirements characterize the German e-commerce market. A trader need to do such things as:

  1. before a customer places an order, offer the customer technical means for identifying and correcting input errors;
  2. accept the order from the customer;
  3. provide an option to retrieve and save the contract terms.

Before placing an order

From the other side, before placing an order, a trader needs to provide details like:

  • step-by-step technical procedures leading up to the contract;
  • information on how the entrepreneur can identify and correct mistakes with the technical means provided in advance;
  • languages that can be used to conclude a contract;
  • a code of conduct that the entrepreneur subscribes to; 
  • the possibility of electronic access to these codes of conduct.

Before concluding a contract with a consumer

In advance of the contract being concluded, the following details must be given to the consumer:

  • essential characteristics of the products;
  • identity, address, telephone number and (sometimes fax number and e-mail address of the trader);
  • the total price of the product ( taxes, duties, any additional shipping costs, etc.);
  • cost of using the means of distance communication used for the conclusion of the contract, if the consumer is charged with costs that exceed the price of merely using the means of distance communication;
  • terms of payment, delivery, and performance, the deadline by which the entrepreneur must deliver the goods or provide the service;
  • the entrepreneur’s procedure for dealing with complaints, the existence of a statutory right of liability for defects;
  • providing the consumer with a copy or confirmation of the contract on a data carrier and within a reasonable period. 

Delivery restrictions and means of payment 

Consumers should be informed whether delivery restrictions exist in online stores and what payment methods are accepted. Consumers must also be provided with a common and reasonable form of free payment from the entrepreneur. These are, for example, direct debit, credit card, or payment in advance. Furthermore, if additional chargeable means of payment are provided, the agreed fee may not be more than the cost incurred by the entrepreneur through the use of the additional means of payment.

Your website

Following the Telemedia Act, your website must contain the following information:

  • name of your company (registered name), address, legal form, and authorized representative;
  • your email address or another way to quick electronic communication with your company;
  • details of the regulatory and supervisory bodies if your company requires an official license or authorization;
  • your commercial register, association register(s), or partnership register; 
  • if your company carries out a “regulated profession” you need to add:
    • the Chamber to which your company belongs,
    • the statutory designation of the occupation and the country in which the title was awarded; 
    • the details of the professional rules and where they can be accessed;
    • your VAT identification number and business identification number issued by the tax authorities.

Commercial communications

According to the Telemedia Act, if you wish to communicate with customers (or potential customers) commercially online, you must:

  • Keep your commercial communication clear as a commercial communication and identify your company
  • make all promotional offers, such as discounts, premiums, gifts, prizes, and games of an advertising nature, identifiable and provide their terms and conditions in an easy-to-read format.

Exceptions

The contract may not be concluded within the framework of a distribution or service system organized for distance selling, such as when the supplier sells goods through a store and accept orders by phone as an exception. Distance selling law also excludes the sample contracts:

  • on notarised contracts;
  • for travel services;
  • on the transportation of persons;
  • on part-time residential rights, long-term vacation products, mediation and exchange systems;
  • treatment contracts;
  • on the supply of food, beverages or other household goods for daily use;
  • concluded with the help of vending machines and automated business premises;
  • concluded with operators of telecommunication means with the help of public coin and card telephones for their use;
  • for the use of a single phone, Internet or fax connection established by a consumer;
  • etc.

Key contracts

As you know, if a company wishes to reach potential customers in Germany via its website or web store, it must comply with German law. In this area of law, the most important German statutes are:

  • Act against Unfair Competition (UWG)
  • Quotation of Prices Act (PrAngV)
  • Telemedia Act (TMG)
  • Privacy Act (BDSG)
  • Packaging Act (VerpackV)
  • Regulations on General Terms and Conditions within the German Civil Code (BGB)
  • Consumer Protection Act
  • Treaty on the Protection of Human Dignity and the Protection of Minors in Broadcasting and the Electronic Media (JMStV)
  • Securities law and the financial supervisory law (if relevant in your case).

What’s more, in Germany, written warnings are widely used against merchants when they break consumer law, breach competition law or trademark law.

Legal Department at Händlerbund

Take a look at Händlerbund. Experienced lawyers provide legal advice via telephone or email in the area of ecommerce. Depending on their area of expertise, lawyers may specialise in data protection, youth protection, contract law, or product labelling. Additionally, they offer a wide range of services to their members as Händlerbund wants to support them in professionalising their online business. 

To sum up

In some areas, there’re legal regulations harmonized within the European Union, but there are still differences in national law that companies should be aware of. Getting legal advice, ideally even before you start your operations in Germany, is a good idea. For an online store or platform, it is crucial that you obtain all legal texts that are relevant and necessary.  In addition, you can obtain a general audit of your online store, which involves checking your product descriptions, advertising messages, and product labelling.

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