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An 'Alternative' to ADR: Online Dispute Resolution in the European Union

The European Commission published a report on the Functioning of the European Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Platform in December 2020, to report on the details about the usage of the platform since 2019. In line with the obligation laid down in Article 21 of the ODR Regulation (524/2013/EU), the Commission report also informs about the actions carried out by the Commission itself to further enhance the platform.

The platform, designed to be user-friendly to promote easy and effective usage by European consumers, can be used to submit complaints for online purchases. It is also not restricted to the Union; Liechtenstein and Norway are also included in the multilingual register of 468 quality Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) bodies.

According to the statistics provided by the Commission, the number of ADR entities published on the ODR platform as of 15 December 2020 are as listed: France is in the first spot, having 87 entities published on the platform and is followed by the United Kingdom with 52 and Italy with 47 entities; while the countries with the least amount of entities published are Liechtenstein and Romania with 2, Finland with 3, and Estonia, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Lithuania with 5.

The statistics show that while 2,8 million people visited the ODR platform in 2019, approximately 200,000 unique people visited the platform per month.

Source: European Commission Functioning of the European ODR Platform Statistical Report

The Commission also reports on the changes it introduced to the ODR platform on 24 July 2019. The first change implemented seeks to ease the process by offering visitors a self-test so that they can easily choose which redress option would be most appropriate for the issue they are having: the options given to visitors are:

  • Launching a complaint on the ODR platform;

  • Contacting the trader bilaterally;

  • Or an ADR entity directly.

The second change is an option for the visitors to share a draft complaint with the trader they wish to log a complaint about in order to try and settle the dispute directly. It is also known as the so-called “direct talks” module.

By the end of 2019, the Commission observed that about 20.000 consumers took the self-test each month; this is a fourfold increase of the usage of the platform from when consumers only had the option to launch a complaint.

Source: European Commission Functioning of the European ODR Platform Statistical Report

Hence, the amount of official complaints on the platform decreased by a considerable amount, which, according to the report, was caused by the acknowledgement of the consumers that launching a complaint was not the best option to resolve their problem.

The report also provides information about the top 7 retail sectors that received the most complaints in 2019. The first was the airlines sector, holding a 14,8% share of all complaints made on the ODR platform. Clothing and footwear sector was in the second place at 10,6%, while the information and communications technology (ICT) sector was in the third place at 6,2%. The following sectors were hotels and other holiday accommodation (5,8%), electronic goods (4,1%), furnishings (3,6%), and leisure goods sectors (3,1%).

It is stated in the report that 50% of the logged complaints were cross-border, which was proven by the Commission from the large amount of complaint by the country of the consumer or of the trade differences.

Source: European Commission Functioning of the European ODR Platform Statistical Report

The 30-day legal deadline given to the traders to agree on proceeding to an ADR procedure resulted in the automatic closure of 83% of all complaints logged onto the platform. 11% of the complaints were refused by traders and 4% were withdrawn by one of the two sides. In the end, it is noted that only 2% of all complaints reached to an ADR body.

A survey, however, reports that 20% of consumers who admitted a formal complaint (or direct talks) stated that the dispute they had was resolved either on the ODR platform or outside the platform, while another 18% wished to continue discussing with the trader.

The report of the Commission is important for several reasons. Providing European consumers an easily accessible and efficient way of dispute resolution has both a stabilising effect on the markets and eases the workload on legal systems. In addition to its effects on the markets and legal systems, this measure protects the rights of European consumers, greatly benefiting both sides of the equation. Lastly, while the report does not include the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, its benefits will surely be reflected on the report looking at the ODR platform usage in 2020. As ECOPNET (European Cooperation and Partnership Network), we strongly appreciate the creation and constant improvements of the ODR platform by the Commission and urge our partners to take any disputes they have to the plaform, especially during the pandemic.

Source: European Commission Functioning of the European ODR Platform Statistical Report

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