Geoblocking restricts the rights of consumers to buy from wherever they want. Online shopping facilitated shopping across borders – something which for a small country like ours is vital for the consumer as the choice is limited and prices are high. This opportunity to buy online put pressure on local providers to increase choice and reduce prices. However, online shopping also made it easier to restrict shopping across borders as it is easier to identify the location of the consumer and thus block.
During the past year, within the EU steps were taken to restrict geo-blocking. However, enforcement, as usual, is weak. At the beginning of January, the Association tested two sites – Marks & Spencer and Mothercare. In both cases, we noticed that Maltese consumers were not allowed to shop from the UK websites.
The Association wrote to both Marks & Spencer and Mothercare protesting that geoblocking on their sites is discriminating against Maltese consumers and we informed both that we would be launching a campaign against them. In both cases, it was noted that when one tried to shop from their websites, one is in the final stages of ordering a product and is asked to insert the location where the products should be sent, Malta was not included on the list of countries where products could be delivered.
We are glad to note that in the case of Mothercare the first steps to end geoblocking had been taken. In the case of Mothercare, one could ask for the products to be sent to Malta.
However, this is only the first step. The attraction of Mothercare website has been marred as one would still not be able to buy many of the offers. Apart from this, the postage charges that they are asking are exorbitant and in most cases higher than the product itself.
As we said the first steps had been taken but it is a long way to ensure that consumers would really benefit from the Single Market.