BRUSSELS: U.S. online retailer Amazon does not have to provide a helpline phone number to consumers, Europe's top court said on Wednesday in a ruling that could boost e-commerce merchants.
Amazon found itself in the dock after the German Federal Union of Consumer Organisations and Associations said its German website breached the country's consumer protection laws by not informing consumers in a clear and comprehensible manner about its telephone and fax numbers.
Amazon's automated call-back facility and an online chat service were not sufficient to show that it had lived up to its legal obligation, the federation said.
The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union rejected the arguments.
"An e-commerce platform such as Amazon is not obliged in all cases to make a telephone number available to consumers before the conclusion of a contract," judges said.
The court said other factors need to be taken into account apart from consumer rights.
"It is necessary to strike the right balance between a high level of consumer protection and the competitiveness of enterprises," it said.
The court however said that Amazon is obliged to provide consumers with a means of communication allowing them to contact it quickly and to communicate with it efficiently.
Amazon welcomed the decision, saying "We were always confident that our call back service is fast, efficient and customer focused. The ECJ has now confirmed that the possibilities we offer for establishing contact are in line with the spirit and purpose as well as the requirements of the Consumer Rights Directive."
The ruling could lighten the burden for online merchants, especially small retailers, while paving the way for cheaper automation.
The judgment is line with the court adviser's non-binding opinion issued in February.
The case is C649/17 C-649/17 Amazon EU.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, editing by Louise Heavens)