The ECJ has made an interesting decision regarding contact details on websites.
The e-commerce Directive dictates at Article 5(1) that companies:
“shall render easily, directly and permanently accessible to the recipients of the service and competent authorities, at least the following information:
(a) the name of the service provider;
(b) the geographic address at which the service provider is established;
(c) the details of the service provider, including his electronic mail address, which allow him to be contacted rapidly and communicated with in a direct and effective manner”.
But now the ECJ has determined that in addition to having postal and email addresses websites must display either a telephone number or a contact form that is answered within 60 minutes. More specifically the ECJ ruled: “It is clear from all those considerations that under Article 5(1)(c) of the Directive the service provider is required to offer recipients of the service a rapid, direct and effective means of communication in addition to his electronic mail address…It is clear that there are forms of communication other than by telephone able to satisfy the criteria of direct and effective communication referred to…[The] information does not necessarily have to be a telephone number. That information may be in the form of an electronic enquiry template through which the recipients of the service can contact the service provider via the internet, to whom the service provider replies by electronic mail.”
Where a contact form is used the ECJ said that answers should be prompt: “It is true that an electronic enquiry template may be regarded as offering a direct and effective means of communication where, as is clear in the case in the main proceedings the service provider answers questions sent by consumers within a period of 30 to 60 minutes,” of course this time period is particular to the set of facts in this case, unfortunately the ECJ failed to elaborate as to any appropriate time scales for future cases.
This ruling has caused much worry across the business world with images of 24 hour call centre’s for even the most insignificant sites. The aim is to protect consumers by ensuring they can contact online retailers but for the businesses themselves this seems completely impractical.