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Europe wants shopaholics to head for the digital border

Different prices in different countries will be a thing of the past if the European Commission has its way.


Online shopping is no fun if you're getting ripped off.

Erwin Wodicka, ullstein bild via Getty Images

Shopaholics of Europe rejoice! Or réjouir! Or sich freuen!

The European Commision proposed on Wednesday a rule that would prevent online retailers from blocking customers from online border jumping to take advantage of price disparities between countries.

The Commission wants to outlaw a practice known as "geoblocking," which companies use to limit access to their websites based on customer location. By blocking some customers, companies can charge more for the same items in different countries.

Prices on online shopping sites can vary significantly by country in Europe. The Commission's proposal would attempt to level the playing field and make online shopping more transparent, allowing shoppers to shell out safe in the knowledge they are not being ripped off due to their location.

The proposed rules might also benefit online shopping sites by reassuring them they are meeting the standards set out in EU law. Currently, it's unclear if similar laws promoting fair-pricing practices that affect car rentals, amusement parks and other services apply to e-commerce companies. A new set of rules would provide legal clarity.

"The geoblocking initiative strikes the right balance between consumers' interest to be able to shop online without borders and providing businesses with sufficient legal certainty," Günther H. Oettinger, commissioner for the digital economy and society, said in a statement. "I am confident that our approach, taking due account of specificities of certain sectors, will give the right boost to cross-border e-commerce in the EU."

Video-streaming services are exempt from the proposed policy because they fall under separate rules governing audiovisual services. They do however face content quotas, which were also proposed on Wednesday. Under new rules, Netflix and Amazon will have to ensure that at least 20 percent of the content in their listings are homegrown European films and TV shows.