Online shopping is becoming increasingly popular with internet users. According to MCA’s latest consumer survey, carried out in 2016, 63% of Maltese bought something online. Findings show that the most sought after products and services with Maltese online shoppers are clothes and shoes, holiday accommodation and flight tickets.
Despite the fact that online shopping knows no borders, often, consumers come up against barriers that prevent them from getting what they want. Online shoppers frequently face restrictions imposed by online shops, known as geo-blocking, based on nationality, place of residence or place of connection. Websites are able to tell where individuals are geographically by checking their device's IP address.
A typical example is when you’re shopping from the U.K. or any other foreign website, and during the check-out process you get re-directed to the Maltese site where you may find that the chosen item is not available, or you are charged differently. This is called country redirect and it is one of the several geo-blocking barriers that prevent shoppers from selecting the online shop they prefer.
Other forms of customer discrimination include websites not accepting a means of payment (for example, credit cards) from a different EU country or not being able to register on the website because of your location.
However, the situation is bound to change.
On Tuesday the European Parliament adopted a regulation to end geo-blocking, obliging retailers to give consumers access to goods and services on the same terms all over the EU, regardless of their location. The move is set to widen access to many online services, including shopping and car rentals, within the European Union, where many companies continue to use geo-blocking to restrict their content nationally. But copyrighted material, including video streaming platforms (such as Netflix and Amazon Prime), computer games and e-books, shall remain exempt from the decision.
The regulation is set to come into effect before the end of 2018.
The MCA is responsible for supervising the Maltese eCommerce sector, that is, the selling of goods and services over the internet. In this capacity, the Authority is responsible to ensure that providers of electronic commerce services in Malta are compliant with the relevant provisions of the Electronic Commerce Act.