E-commerce and Dropshipping: why beware?

More and more online sellers practice "dropshipping", that is to say the online sale of products of which they have no stock, which will be sent directly by the manufacturer to the consumer. Although this practice is legal in France and is growing rapidly thanks to influencers on social networks, it often brings bad surprises: very long delivery times, hidden fees, poor quality or counterfeit products... It is therefore better to know how to spot the websites that practice dropshipping and follow our advice to avoid the traps.

How to spot a dropshipping website?

It is not easy to spot the sites that practice dropshipping because few online sellers display it clearly on their website or in their terms and conditions. It is often at the time of the shipping confirmation or at the time of delivery that you realise that the package comes from a country outside the EU and not from the seller's country.

Here are some tips to spot a dropshipper.

  • Check the identity and complete contact details of the online seller: they should appear in the legal notice of the site or in the general terms and conditions of sale (GTC). If the postal address refers you to a building in the heart of Paris, it is unlikely that the seller manages his own stock. More advice in our article "How to check the trustworthiness of the seller".
  • Check that the seller is registered as a professional trader in an official trade register (easy search on the e-justice website)
  • Check the terms and conditions to know to which country to send the products in case of a defect or cooling off. This will give you an indication of the country of origin of the product and you will be able to estimate the return costs.
  • Check the applicable law indicated in the GTC or in the privacy policy: this mention often allows you to know in which country the seller is located.
  • Check the delivery time in its GTC. A long delivery time can be an indicator that you are on a dropshipper's site.

What are the risks of buying on a dropshipping website?

Your online seller does not manage manufacturing, the stock or the shipping of your order.

Here are the risks you take when you buy on a dropshipping website:

  • No guarantee on the quality of the products received. As the seller has no direct control over the products delivered, you may receive poor quality products, dangerous products, sometimes not respecting the EU standards (absence of the CE marking) or counterfeit products...
  • Very long delivery times because the products are often shipped from a non-EU country.
  • Additional costs because goods worth more than 150 € coming from a non-EU country can be blocked in customs while waiting for your payment of customs duties.
  • Stock problems: the merchandise is displayed on the site as available but the supplier's production capacity is insufficient to fulfill the orders.
  • Significant return shipping costs: if you do not like the product and request to cancel your order, you may have to send your order back to the supplier, which, depending on their location, could be expensive.

Tips to avoid pitfalls

  • Compare prices before you buy. Check the price of the product you want on different websites, especially on the brand's site or with a competing product. If the price displayed is considerably lower, beware.
  • Take a close look at the product description. If you find exactly the same explanation, it is possible that the seller only copied them without really knowing the product.
  • Beware of sales techniques that consist of posting the number of "people interested in the same product" and a deadline for "taking advantage of this offer". Don't give in to the pressure of dark patterns.
  • Always check a promotion posted on a site or touted by an influencer : it may be hiding a counterfeit product.
  • Check reviews and forums on the Internet! Other consumers may have already shared their experiences. Be sure to distinguish false positive reviews left by the sellers themselves.
  • Check if the site contains legal notices with the seller's full contact details. 
  • Read the terms and conditions of sale. If there are none, if they are contradictory, very short or written in broken French, avoid!
  • Check the domain name on WHOIS or AFNIC (for domain names ending in ".fr") to determine who registered the online sales site and when.

Dropshipper or supplier: who is responsible for my order?

From a legal point of view, the seller who practices dropshipping has the same obligations as a "classic" online seller.

Good to know: before the order, the seller must among other things inform you about :

  • The price including VAT, with possible customs duties (which can give you an indication of the non-EU origin of the products). In the absence of complete information on the price (with the expenses of delivery, importation...), you would be entitled to refuse the delivery and to ask for the cancellation of the contract as well as the refunding of the versed sums);
  • The legal guarantee of conformity of two years;
  • Your right of withdrawal.

He is also responsible for the delivery of your order and your contact in case of problem.

Good to know

Faced with the increasingly questionable practices of some dropshippers, France has created a new specific tax regime for the "distance selling of imported goods" in application of the European package aimed at moderniing VAT for cross-border e-commerce. As of July 1, 2021, even if the online seller is indirectly involved in the delivery of the goods, he will be obliged to declare his transactions for tax purposes and pay import VAT. This measure applies to dropshippers as well as to e-commerce platforms such as marketplaces.

More information in our article "Purchases inside and outside the EU: limits and VAT".

Dropshipping & influencers

One of the effective ways to promote the so-called advantages of a product sold by dropshipping sites is to use influencers. They are now numerous on social networks to advertise "the latest item they discovered and that changed their life" even going so far as to encourage you to "take advantage of this golden deal" by sharing a "promo code". These attractive messages often end with an invitation to connect to a dropshipping site.

Although they are obliged to specify that they are paid to promote these products (by telling their community about their "partner" or by using hashtags in their message), not all influencers do so.

So be careful not to fall into the "good deal" trap! Ask about the promoted website and especially compare the prices of the products because you can often find them cheaper elsewhere. Be aware that influencers cannot be held responsible for any problems that may arise during your order on the dropshipping site. More information in our article on influencers.

What should I do if I have a problem with a dropshipper?

  • First try to find a solution with the seller directly, if possible in writing.
  • In case of dispute with a trader established in another EU Member state, in the United Kingdom, Iceland or Norway, do not hesitate to contact us. Please note that we do not intervene in case of fraud.
  • If you have paid your order by credit card and have not received anything, contact your bank to request a refund via the chargeback procedure.
  • If the fraud is proven, report the facts in France on the platform that depends on the Ministry of the Interior internet-signalement.gouv.fr and on the platform “Signal Conso”, from the French Directorate general for consumer protection and fraud control (DGCCRF).

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.