The Czech European Consumer Centre's focus this year is on shopping via the Internet. The aim is to encourage Czechs to make use of distance shopping opportunities in Europe and to inform them of their rights in the European market.
“We want to concentrate on this area because of its growing importance. We are keen to encourage consumers to seek out better quality, cheaper options for the purchase of goods and services directly from their homes, while giving them advice on how to avoid problems and deal with any issues,” says Tomáš Večl, Director of the European Consumer Centre at the Czech Trade Inspectorate (ECC). “At present, we are mainly presenting the benefits and pitfalls of shopping online to high school students at Eurofestivals organized within the scope of the Czech EU Presidency. We will continue to hold presentations at other events, and there are plans to issue leaflets and promotional materials on this subject.”
The ECC's programme is based on the fact that more than 50% of last year's cross-border complaints handled by the ECC involved contracts entered into over the Internet. “We have registered a nearly fivefold increase since 2005,” says Tomáš Večl. The proportion of complaints about the non-delivery of goods is also rising. “If a foreign vendor fails to deliver goods and is unwilling to give a refund to Czech consumers, then these customers can contact our centre to receive assistance with the recovery of their money,” explains Tomáš Večl. Overall, the most common areas of complaint handled by the lawyers continue to involve flying, travel and leisure. The highest number of complaints concerns the quality of purchased goods and services.
In 2008, the Czech ECC's services were primarily used by Czech consumers. Their complaints and disputes with foreign traders accounted for 60% of the Centre's work; the remaining 40% were complaints from foreign consumers about Czech companies. “Foreign consumers were most commonly Austrians complaining about companies in the south of Moravia offering phone sex in Austria on their websites. In terms of the number of complaints, Slovak consumers ranked second and had diverse concerns. Spanish consumers, in third place, tended to have problems with the services of our airlines. Polish tourists often had issues with accommodation,” says the director of the Centre. Eighty-five per cent of requests for information were from Czech consumers.
The European Consumer Centre Czech Republic organized and contributed to several projects in 2008. For example, the European Commission held a competition for the best consumer protection campaign, the Czech national round of which was won by Czech Television's show Černé ovce – Testoviny (Black Sheep – Testellini). Consumers welcome the leaflets “Your rights as an air passenger” and “How to claim goods bought in EU countries”, as well as the practical guide to “Shopping in Europe”. “Based on the problems and needs of the ECC's clients, the themes of these publications cover those areas where most problems occur. In addition, we drew up information especially for visitors to the European Football Championship to let them know about their consumer rights. This was a project involving the whole network of European Consumer Centres,” explains Ondřej Tichota, the ECC communications specialist.
A major event last year was the launch of the Alternative Consumer Dispute Resolution project. The ECC helps promote and raise awareness of this cheaper and faster alternative to traditional litigation.
ECC lawyers are continuing the work of their predecessors from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, from which the Centre transferred to the Czech Trade Inspectorate in January this year. “In the first four months of the year, the new team of lawyers handled a third more cases than the number dealt with in the same period last year by our colleagues at the Ministry, and we also processed more requests for information. We believe this increase has been prompted by growing consumer awareness of our centre and our efforts to improve the way we promote this free assistance to consumers,” concludes Tomáš Večl.
The Centre, attached to the Czech Trade Inspectorate, has this year co-hosted a conference on the draft European Directive on the protection of consumer rights and participated in the German-Czech ConNet project, which aims to inform people living in the border regions of West Bohemia and Bavaria of their consumer rights when shopping abroad.