Taxes & Law

Ruling on manufacturer's warranty: What does this mean for online retailers?

Nadja Müller

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As an online retailer, you may sell products that you have not manufactured yourself. You may also do this via platforms such as Amazon, eBay and the like. If you have a broad sales range with products from many different manufacturers, the new Verdict of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) of 5.5.2022 on the manufacturer's warranty could have rather unpleasant consequences for you: The judges have ruled that retailers on Amazon must provide customers with comprehensive information about a guarantee provided by the manufacturer. Read on to find out what the judges were looking for, whether your concerns are justified and what you should do now. 

Not all guarantees are the same

As an online retailer, it's not exactly easy for you in Germany if you want to set up and operate an online store that meets all legal requirements: For example, you have to provide information about withdrawal rights, be careful with prices and quantities, have correct terms and conditions and a privacy policy, and correctly label and integrate buy buttons.

It gets even more complicated if you also want to offer a guarantee for your products and advertise this in your store: Because then you go beyond the already existing legal rights of the consumer. Under German law, you must then also state the following - simply and clearly:

  1. The buyer can make use of the statutory warranty rights free of charge; these are not restricted by the guarantee.
  2. the name and address of the guarantor.
  3. What does the buyer have to do to claim the warranty?
  4. Goods to which the guarantee relates.
  5. Provisions of the guarantee, in particular duration and territorial scope.

The fact is: If you want to grant a warranty on your products, there is a lot to do. But now you're probably wondering whether all this also applies if you sell products that someone else has manufactured. First of all: No. Because not all guarantees are the same.

Difficult to implement for online retailers

Especially if you offer goods from many different manufacturers in your store, it would be a huge effort to check whether the manufacturer offers a guarantee for each individual item - often you don't even know about it. And then you would also have to prepare the information required above for these items and place it on your homepage and update it regularly. For many online retailers, this is a reason to simply forget about the warranty.

However, this is not a good idea. As an online retailer, you are obliged to inform your buyers about the existence of a guarantee before they conclude the contract - regardless of the information mentioned above. Online retailers who offer guarantees or sell the products of others who offer guarantees themselves are therefore living dangerously: if they comply with the law, the effort involved is enormous. If they ignore them, they could receive a warning letter. But is that fair? Whether it really can be was unclear for a long time.

Online retailers can (partially) breathe a sigh of relief

A recent ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from 5.5.2022 (Case C-179/21) sheds at least some light on the matter. The case: A retailer sells Victorinox pocket knives via Amazon. The manufacturer Victorinox grants a manufacturer's guarantee on the knives. The Amazon retailer does not mention this guarantee in its offer text, but links to an information sheet from Victorinox under "Further technical information": The guarantee is mentioned there, but not broken down in detail, as required above. A competitor takes legal action against the retailer.

The ECJ has ruled in such a way that some online retailers should be able to breathe a sigh of relief. The key points:

  • In principle, an Amazon retailer does not (always) have to provide information about a manufacturer's warranty. The effort for the retailer would be too high.
  • The situation is different if the consumer needs the information in order to decide whether to conclude the contract with the online retailer.
  • For this, the dealer must have made the guarantee the central or decisive feature of the offer.
  • This is the case if he/she explicitly draws the consumer's attention to the manufacturer's warranty in order to advertise and positively differentiate his/her offer from that of his/her competitors.
  • If he only mentions the guarantee in passing - for example by linking to the product data sheet - the guarantee is not a decisive feature of his offer.

As an online retailer, you can breathe a sigh of relief: after all, this means that you can design your offer in such a way that you can get out of the situation. But beware: Remember that the ECJ has referred the legal dispute back to the BGH. It must now decide whether the link to the product data sheet is really not sufficient to make the guarantee a decisive feature of the offer.

What you should do as an online retailer

"But if it's all still so unclear, what does the ruling mean for me?" you're probably asking. We can reassure you: There are a few things you can take away from the ruling if you want to be on the safe side when it comes to manufacturer's warranties.

  • Tip 1: Do not mention the manufacturer's warranty at all and make no reference to it - even if there is one. This way, the question does not arise as to whether a link to the manufacturer's information sheets already means that you are making a guarantee the central feature of your offer.
  • Tip 2If you want to actively advertise the guarantee, however, you must set out all the conditions we have mentioned above on your homepage. Update the information regularly.
  • Tip 3: If you happen to notice that a guarantee is mentioned - e.g. in small print on a product photo - it is probably not harmful if you do not refer to it yourself.

Conclusion: The ECJ ruling on manufacturer's warranties should at least make things a little easier for you as an online retailer. This is because it offers you a way to be relatively legally secure without the need for a huge amount of regular maintenance. There are ways in which you can avoid warnings on the grounds that you are not providing information about the manufacturer's warranty.

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