11 Nov 2016
Report Finds that Shops do not Always Abide by Their Legal Obligations in Relation to Information on Spare Parts and Warranties
The French Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Prevention of Fraud (DGCCRF) has published the results of its 2015-2016 investigation in which it found that a number of shops did not fully comply with their legal obligations to provide information to consumers in relation to spare parts and warranties. The findings could potentially impact a wide variety of online and offline sellers, including those from Hong Kong or those selling imported goods from Hong Kong.
Under French legislation, consumers must be informed when they make a purchase in brick-and-mortar shops of the time period during which the manufacturer or the importer makes spare parts available for its products. This information must be “brought to the consumers’ knowledge by the seller, in a visible and readable manner, before the conclusion of the sale”. In addition, consumers must be informed, in both physical and online shops, of the terms and conditions of the legal warranties applicable to a given product. This obligation aims at preventing consumers from unnecessarily contracting warranty extensions where the product concerned is already under legal warranty.
Both measures were introduced on 1 March 2015 to encourage consumers to choose products according to their durability, to dispel rumours of the existence of ‘programmed obsolescence’ in electrical products and also to encourage the repair of broken products, as opposed to their disposal. While the French law foresees the imposition of a fine of up to EUR 15,000 for a seller’s failure to supply consumers with information, the DGCCRF‘s latest investigation shows compliance with the legislation has been poor.
Out of the 397 stores investigated, which included large specialised stores, supermarkets, retail stores, second-hand stores and online shops, the DGCCRF found that consumers were not fully informed in 248 stores (62.5%) of their legal rights in relation to the availability of spare parts. This was particularly true as regards online shops (52%). In contrast, large specialised shops (21%) and supermarkets (26%) had the lowest rate of non-compliance.
In total, absent or misleading information in relation to the warranty was noted in, respectively, 140 cases and 126 cases in relation to the availability of spare parts. The DGCCRF sent out 154 regulatory warnings, lodged 93 injunctions and filed 6 formal reports.
The results of DGCCRF‘s latest investigation broadly reflect the findings of previous investigations carried out by consumer groups earlier in the year. For example, a year after its introduction, 60 Millions de Consommateurs, a French consumer protection magazine, in partnership with Friends of the Earth, visited 500 sellers between December 2015 and January 2016 and found a complete absence of spare parts information for televisions and cafetières (coffee makers) in more than 65% of shops. The figures were slightly better in relation to the information available for washing machines and vacuum cleaners, with about 50% complying with the legal requirements.
Moreover, UFC-Que Choisir, a French consumer group, carried out an investigation of products put on the market after 1 March 2015 in seven physical shops and eleven online shops which revealed even poorer levels of non-compliance, with only a quarter systematically providing information on the availability of spare parts. UFC-Que Choisir also criticised the fact that 80% of sellers displaying the necessary information buried it within the middle of the description of the product. The French consumer group emphasised that this information is especially important for a consumer given that the duration of the availability of spare parts varies significantly between manufactures (2 -11 years depending on the brand).
Hong Kong traders marketing electrical goods may be interested to know that UFC-Que Choisir, in light of its findings, asked the French Minister responsible for Consumer Affairs, Martine Pinville, to modify the law in order to harmonise the presentation of the consumer information and require manufacturers not offering spare parts to display this information. Traders not offering spare parts may be relieved to know that the French Minister has since rebuffed the need to introduce negative labelling on the basis that the purpose of the law is to ensure that consumers are aware of the duration, as opposed to the existence, of the availability of spare parts.
However, in respect of the presentation of the consumer information, the French Minister said in a press conference that she could not rule out the possibility of modifying the law so that a standardised label, for example, with an easily recognised logo, would be introduced.