„The legal instrument of written warnings is widespread in Germany and is used against traders in the event of violations of consumer, competition, trademark or copyright law,“ says Annegret Mayer from the Händlerbund. In the run-up to your presentation at the E-Commerce Berlin Expo in February, this interview will tell you more about the most important legal challenges facing German e-commerce and the steps you should take to sell legally and securely in Germany.
Paulina, E-Commerce Berlin Expo: You are the head of the legal department at Händlerbund, the largest e-commerce association in Europe. The Händlerbund looks after over 50,000 online presences, including small and medium-sized companies. The Händlerbund also cooperates with the umbrella organization Ecommerce Europe, which enables it to represent the interests of the e-commerce industry throughout Europe and to provide European legislative procedures. How big is your team How do you work?
Annegret Mayer, Händlerbund: 14 experienced lawyers work in the legal department of the Händlerbund. It’s quite a team providing legal advice to our members on e-commerce by phone or email. Every lawyer has a special area of expertise such as data protection, protection of minors, contract law or product labeling. We also provide our members with all relevant legal texts for online trading. The legal department is also responsible for checking our members‘ online shops for legal aspects. Defined verification criteria cover all legal requirements that are important for online trading. If the check of the online shop is successful, our members receive the Trustmark Buyer Seal and the Ecommerce Europe Trustmark,
The Händlerbund supports companies not only from Germany, but also from markets as diverse as Austria, Spain, France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Denmark, Belgium, Greece and the Netherlands.
How did you manage to bring so many (and different) e-commerce establishments together in one association?
We sometimes employ our own staff in our legal department, but we also work with the legal departments of the national associations that are organized within E-Commerce Europe.
What other support do you offer the members of your association in addition to legal representation and advice?
There are many other services that we offer to our members. First of all, the Händlerbund would like to be the first point of contact for our members for all aspects of e-commerce and we would like to support them in professionalizing their online business. With this in mind, we support our members, for example, with customer service for their online business or with support with SEO or SEA. The dealer association also organizes workshops on various topics and many networking events. We believe that the exchange between our members in the online business is vital and valuable.
Companies from other parts of Europe often see the legal aspects of operating in the German e-commerce market as a challenge. Is this perception a truth or an exaggeration? What do you think are the roots of this perception?
To some extent it is indeed a challenge to enter the German market. The legal instrument of written warnings is widespread in Germany and is used against dealers if, for example, consumer law, competition law, trademark law or copyright law are violated. There are many reasons for a written warning; Surveys show that every fourth retailer has already received a written warning. In view of these numbers, it is important to be aware of the legal challenges of the German market and to receive legal assistance when entering the German market.Lesen Sie hier mehr über alle Nachrichten
What are the biggest or most frequent legal problems faced by companies ready to enter the German e-commerce market?
Companies enter a market in which German law applies. Even if the legal provisions within the European Union are harmonized in some areas (e.g. information on the right of withdrawal or pre-contractual information), there are still differences in national law that companies must observe.
And what are the most common mistakes such companies make?
For example, companies do not adequately inform consumers about their right of withdrawal. Other most common mistakes are incorrect information on the legal notice, the use of unfair terms and conditions, lack of information on product labeling, pricing, shipping costs and online dispute resolution systems. This is mainly basic information and consumers have to decide whether or not to buy from the online store. Other mistakes made by companies include infringement of copyrights and trademarks.
Making mistakes in law also means consequences – how serious can they be?
The worst case scenario would result in enormous financial damage. The range of financial sanctions varies depending on the case between € 1,500.00 for a violation of competition law and several thousand euros. It is usually serious when trademark law is violated. This is why it is so important to know the legal environment and have legal expertise in the specialty of e-commerce law. It prevents traders from making such errors of law. So it’s worth investing the money in legal advice and support.
What would you recommend to a company that is ready to enter the German e-commerce market? What steps should be taken first to ensure compliance with German regulations?
Ich empfehle dringend, sich vor dem Eintritt in den deutschen E-Commerce-Markt rechtlich beraten zu lassen. Das Wichtigste ist, alle Rechtstexte zu erhalten, die für den Online-Shop oder die Plattformen relevant und notwendig sind. Die Rechtstexte sind der erste Blickfang für Wettbewerber oder Verbände, die schriftliche Warnungen einreichen, und etwa 80-90% der Fehler, die Unternehmen normalerweise machen, sind Teil der Rechtstexte. Eine zweite wichtige Säule ist die Prüfung des gesamten Online-Shops, dh die Überprüfung von beispielsweise Produktbeschreibungen, Produktpräsentationen, Werbebotschaften und Produktkennzeichnungen.
Große E-Commerce-Unternehmen, die in den deutschen E-Commerce-Markt eintreten, haben in der Regel ihre Rechtsabteilungen, die die Einhaltung der Gesetze sicherstellen – oder sie verfügen über ein Budget für die entsprechenden Rechtsberatungsdienste. Wie ist die Situation bei KMU? Suchen sie oft professionellen Rechtsbeistand? Oder machen sie es vielleicht zu selten – und scheitern daran, alles selbst zu lösen?
KMUs, die für die Mitglieder des Händlerbundes relevant sind, suchen häufig professionelle Rechtsberatung in allen Bereichen in Bezug auf den Abschluss und die ordnungsgemäße Erfüllung eines Vertrags. In den meisten Fällen können sich KMU keine eigenen Anwälte oder eine Rechtsabteilung leisten. Hier springen wir ein und geben alle möglichen Ratschläge auf Wunsch unserer Mitglieder.
As an expert in this field, which websites and other resources would you recommend as a knowledge base for companies considering entering the German e-commerce market? Where should they look for information?
Companies can take a look at the website of the dealer association. We provide lots and lots of information sheets and valuable information free of charge that dealers can use to get an initial overview of the German market. In addition, the websites of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry offer material on the German markets and are a good first source.