Polish regulators fine Amazon EU operator €7 million for ‘misleading’ customers

The Amazon logo is photographed at the Vivatech show in Paris.
The Amazon logo is photographed at the Vivatech show in Paris. Copyright Michel Euler/AP Photo, File
By Anna Desmarais
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Polish regulators found a Luxembourg-based operator for online retailer Amazon guilty of infringement of collective consumer interests and fined them €7.2 million.

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Polish regulators fined an Amazon operator €7.2 million (31 million zlotys) for “misleading consumers” about how and when they would receive their purchases.

The complaint was against Amazon EU SARL, the Luxembourg-based operator of Amazon’s Polish website.

SARL provides “website features and other products and services” to customers on Amazon landing sites or devices, according to the company’s terms and conditions. When customers place an order, they receive a terms and conditions “contract” with Amazon EU SARL.

The regulators found “misleading practices” about when a sales contract is concluded and ambiguous rules for delivery dates and consumers’ rights.

This led to what they called “irregularities” in how Amazon provides products through its website.

Cancelling but not refunding orders

“The consumer should not be forced to take additional steps to check the reliability of … the information presented [on availability and delivery times],” Tomasz Chróstny, chairman of the Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK), said in a statement last week.

For example, the UOKiK states that Amazon “repeatedly” cancelled e-reader orders. In some cases, customers weren’t notified for over a month that their order was cancelled.

Amazon can cancel paid orders, the Polish consumer watchdog added, because the sales contract does not start until a shipping notice is issued.

There is information about this process at the last stage of shopping, the UOKiK continued, but it “can be difficult to access”.

The Polish watchdog added that phrases such as “Buy Now” and “Proceed to Checkout” suggest that the consumer is entering a contract.

Proof of ‘dark patterns’

Customers on the Amazon Poland website would notice a countdown timer that encouraged them to place orders within a certain time limit in return for faster shipping.

What this does, according to UOKiK, is put “pressure on the consumer to place an order as soon as possible,” to get their products. The watchdog identified this practice as a dark pattern: a specific interface design that is made to trick users into taking specific actions.

But the UOKiK investigation found that Amazon would often miss their self-imposed shipping deadlines because they were either difficult to meet or were delayed due to a lack of stock.

Customers are often uninformed as well that Amazon issues refunds under a “Guaranteed Delivery” policy, where a package is supposed to reach the customer within a certain period of time, because the UOKiK said that information is difficult to access.

“Information about the availability of a product and its fast shipping is very valuable for consumers and for many people, it can be the main reason why they make a purchase decision,” Chróstny added.

The press release noted that Amazon can appeal to the court over this fine which is not final.

Euronews Next reached out to Amazon for comment. According to Reuters, the company will appeal the decision.

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