Online retail sales in the UK have grown from £1 billion in 2000 to £44 billion in 2009, which is far ahead of the rest of Europe. It is predicted that by 2020 the internet will account for half of all UK retail sales and will influence most of the other half.

The European Commission considers that e-commerce is an important way to promote cross-border trade, improve accessibility to more varied products and exert greater price competition in the online and offline world. Thus, the European Commission is concerned that despite these advantages retail e-commerce accounts for less than 2% of total European retail trade.

The European Commission is interested to discover the reasons for the limited take-up of e-commerce and to evaluate how the E-Commerce Directive has been implemented, and so launched a consultation in August 2010.

Some of the areas of consultation were contractual restrictions on cross-border online sales, the development of online press services, the interpretation of provisions in the E-Commerce Directive concerning the liability of intermediary information society service providers and the resolution of online disputes.

The consultation is important as it will inform the European Commission’s future work. The European Commission undertook the consultation with a view to the adoption of a Communication in the first half of 2011.

On 21 September 2010, the European Parliament then adopted a resolution on completing the internal market for e-commerce, calling on the European Commission to unlock the full potential of e-commerce in the European Single Market.

The European Parliament urged the European Commission to take a number of actions, including:

• Drafting targeting legislative proposals to strengthen consumer access to and trust in products and services traded online and offer consumers a simple one-stop shop approach.
• Develop proposals for establishing a European financial instrument for credit and debit cards, to facilitate online processing of card transactions.
• Explore options as to how to promote better access to creative content on the internet, such as music, and respond to demands for consumer-friendly cross-border services.
• Set clear standards for cross-border e-commerce at an EU level.
• Clarify the rules on soliciting (direct or indirect) using the internet in other member states.

E-commerce is a real focus for the European Parliament and European Commission for 2011 and it is likely to be a year of new proposals and developments in the law. This focus on developing E-commerce will be welcomed by businesses that are already heavily targeting online consumers. As this is a market that few businesses can afford to ignore, clarifications in the law and developments to assist the growth of e-commerce will be appreciated.

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