Background work > Digital consumers

  • In the United States, the share of e-commerce as a percentage of overall retail has nearly tripled over the last 10 years. But it's no longer just the most developed economies that are leading this change.
  • More effective implementation of consumer rights is essential for e-commerce to reach its full potential, and cross-border and cross-sectoral enforcement co-operation is but one area for further work.
  • The expanding reach of platforms, including peer platforms, is opening up new opportunities but poses special challenges to consumer trust.

Financial education

>> More on financial education and consumer protection

Consumer protection in e-commerce

Growth of e-commerce growth will only be possible if consumer trust in a dynamic but complex market is strengthened. In 2014, 75% of consumers accessed the Internet across the OECD, but only one out of two made an online purchase; this untapped potential is even more pronounced across borders. Concerns include the growing complexity of online transactions and related terms and conditions, as well as the uncertainty about where consumers should turn when they suffer detriment as a result of misleading or fraudulent business practices, or unsafe products. They also relate to the wealth of data that consumers' online activities generate, which, while enabling businesses to sketch rich consumer profiles, also brings risks. Policy makers need to stay current with the evolving challenges.

The 2016 revisions to the OECD Recommendation on Consumer Protection in E-commerce (also available in French and Japanese) provide a blueprint for fair business practices, information disclosures, payment protections, unsafe products, dispute resolution, enforcement and education. Continued efforts are needed to assess how to apply consumer protection, product safety and liability frameworks to transactions involving new products and non-traditional actors, and which reflect the growing complexity of online interactions.

>> More on consumers in the digital economy

>> See all OECD work on consumer policy

Papers and policy guidance

Online Product Safety

This report explores the scope and magnitude of selected product safety challenges faced by consumers when purchasing tangible goods via e-commerce. It provides an overview of the government and business initiatives that have been carried out to protect consumers from three categories of unsafe products that are available for sale online in a number of jurisdictions. Such products include those: i) which have been banned or recalled; ii) with inadequate labelling and safety warnings; and iii) which do not meet voluntary and mandatory safety standards. The report is informed by the results of an OECD online product safety sweep carried out in April 2015, in which 25 jurisdictions participated and inspected a total of 1709 selected products available for sale online.

Protecting Consumers in Peer Platform Markets: Exploring the Issues

Peer-to-peer transactions have long played a role in commerce, but today's online platforms enable them on a much greater scale. Early examples include platforms for the sale of goods (e.g. online auction sites). Newer models include the rental of short-term accommodation and transport or mobility services. Sometimes described as the "sharing" economy or "collaborative consumption," this report refers to these innovative businesses as "peer platform markets." In addition to bringing benefits, peer platform markets raise new policy challenges, including consumer protection issues. As a general principle, consumer laws should be considered to apply to the basic offer of services to peers by peer platforms. It can be difficult, however, to apply existing laws to business models that blur the boundaries between consumers and businesses. What is the best approach to provide effective consumer protection while encouraging innovation? This report provides context for considering this and related questions.

Consumer Policy Guidance on Intangible Digital Content Products

Digital content, such as e-books and apps that are available through streaming, downloads or cloud computing platforms, has become the fastest growing e-commerce product category. To support further growth, it is important that consumers, including children, understand what their rights and obligations are when acquiring and using such products. In particular, consumers need to know about the conditions under which they may copy and share products, and on which devices the products may be used. They also need to be informed about how their personal data may be collected and used, with whom it may be shared and why, and the type of redress that may be obtained when problems arise.

Consumer Policy Guidance on Mobile and Online Payments

This policy guidance is intended to boost consumer protection when using mobile and on-line payment systems and to identify ways in which policy makers and businesses can work together to strengthen consumer protection while spurring innovation in the marketplace. The guidance addresses a number of key issues in the emerging mobile and online payment area, including the need to establish minimum levels of consumer protection across payment mechanisms, enhanced privacy and child protection, and standards for transparent and accessible information disclosures