European e-commerce rules

In the EU, all online shops have to follow European legislation protecting consumers. These laws protect consumers so they can shop safely. Rules differ between countries, for example in product requirements. And legislation for products delivered to foreign customers is also sometimes different.

This article explains the rules for online shops doing business in the EU. For example how the ban on geo-blocking works in practice. The article also goes into product requirements in different countries and staying safe and secure (in Dutch) when doing business with foreign customers. 

Cross-border e-commerce

Your online shop is thriving and you are ready for the next step: expansion abroad. With cross-border e-commerce, you can tap into new markets and sell to customers in the Netherlands as well as in other EU countries. These foreign markets have European as well as local laws and regulations for e-commerce. Find out what rules your online shop must meet before you actively commit to cross-border e-commerce. 

Country selection

The first step is to determine in which countries your product had the best chance. Dutch business owners tend to be drawn to nearby markets, such as GermanyBelgium, or France. But research by the Shopping Tomorrow expert group has revealed that other European countries such as Italy, Poland or Denmark may also be interesting prospects. Check out the report on Cross-border (E)commerce (in Dutch) to find out more about the opportunities on offer in various EU countries. Thuiswinkel.org (in Dutch) has more information on taking your online shop international. 

Ban on geo-blocking

The EU has banned geo-blocking, which restricts online activity to a specific area. With geo-blocking, you could make online information only available to Dutch customers. Customers in other countries have no access to your website. They are blocked, based on their IP address. An IP address is a unique address that the Internet uses to identify a computer or other device. 

European legislation

European online shops have to comply with European legislation and give all customers access to their entire website and all their services. It does not matter what country they are in. This also applies when if you are not active in certain countries. The European Commission does not allow online retailers to exclude consumers from other EU countries. You are also required to use the same product prices, shipping policy, and payment terms across all EU countries. You are not allowed to automatically adjust your prices based on your customer’s location or IP address. 

In practice

  • Does your Dutch online shop allow Dutch customers to pay with a VISA credit card? Then you must also accept VISA payments from, for example, German customers.
  • You may only redirect your customers to a country-specific website with their explicit permission. So, you are not allowed to automatically redirect Belgian customers to your Belgian site, for example.

For more information about geo-blocking, visit the website of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM, in Dutch).

Packaging legislation

If your online shop ships products to consumers in other EU member states, they will most likely be packaged in cardboard or plastic. The European Union has adopted legislation on recycling product packaging. In 2025 EU countries must recycle 65% of packaging. This legislation applies to all companies, from major corporations to small online shops.

Every country has its own way of enforcing EU legislation. In the Netherlands (in Dutch), there is a registration obligation from 50,000 kilograms of packaging material. In Germany and France this obligation applies from the first gram of packaging material. 

You register your company with the packaging register. After a possible registration in another EU member state, you must file a declaration every year. In this declaration you state the amount of packaging that was around your products. Then you need to know how many packages you sold in that country. Keep track of this from the moment you registered your company. The European Commission has compiled a list of ministries responsible for implementing packaging legislation for each EU country. 

You may be fined for failing to comply with the rules on packaging. The maximum fines differ per country. 

WEEE Directive

The WEEE Directive, stands for 'Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive'. In the Netherlands the Regeling Afgedankte Elektrische en Elektronische Apparaten, or Regeling AEEA (in Dutch). This EU directive sets out rules for discarded electrical and electronic equipment, such as home appliances, consumer devices, and toys.

If you sell these products in your online shop, you are responsible for collecting and disposing of discarded products. This is what you need a WEEE registration for. Each EU country has designated the implementation of this directive to a Producer Responsibility Organisation (pdf). 

WEEE label

The WEEE label should appear on all electrical and electronic equipment you place on the EU market. You may also put this symbol on the packaging, instruction manual, or warranty certificate. The WEEE label consists of a crossed-out wheeled bin. It tells your customers that your products should not be discarded as normal waste but that it must be collected separately. 

Local requirements

While your online shop has to meet rules, there are also certain product requirements and other local rules abroad. You must comply with these if you deliver to customers across the border. Do you receive an order from another European country via your webshop? Then first check whether you can just deliver your products. For more information, you can consult the product contact point of the country in question. They will know which national requirements products have to meet and which organisations can provide you with more information. 

Consumer protection

When it comes to distance selling, whether by phone, Internet, or post, consumers are protected by the law. Online vendors are obliged to properly inform their customers. For example, they have to provide contact information, product descriptions, and information about payment and cooling-off periods.

By law, web shops and online platforms must better protect customers. For example, you are not allowed to post false consumer reviews on your website. Before posting reviews on your website, check them for authenticity.

General terms and conditions

General terms and conditions tell your customers exactly what to expect with regard to delivery terms, warranty, cooling-off periods and payment terms. Cater to your international customers and offer your conditions in multiple languages, such as English and German. General terms and conditions are not mandated by law. You can draft them yourself, have them drafted by a legal advisor, or use a template provided by a trade association (thuiswinkel.org, in Dutch) 

Website security

Your online shop has to be reliable and available. Security issues pose a risk to your business and customers. Moreover, you want customers to be able to pay securely, so protect your shop against payment fraud

GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation GDPR applies throughout the EU. In the Netherlands, it is known as the Algemene Verordering Gegevensbescherming (AVG). Because of the GDPR, you have obligations when processing personal data. 

Rules for online shops

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM, in Dutch) has put together overview of rules for online shops in the Netherlands. On ' Your Europe', you will find information on e-commerce rules in the EU, and distance sales. Find out everything you need to know about starting your own online shop