French Supreme Court authorises online bookstores to offer free delivery to their customers

18 July 2008

Sandrine Rambaud

Under a French law dating from 1981, online book stores have been unable to offer free delivery, as such offers have been considered to be bonuses which are illegal. However, a recent decision of the French Supreme Court has decided that free delivery is not a bonus and could therefore be permissible.

E-commerce platforms often offer their customers free delivery. However, under a French law dated 10 August 1981, free delivery is effectively prohibited, as a free delivery is considered to be a bonus, and books cannot be sold with a bonus. This law was designed to protect independent book stores. Sales of books with a bonus is only permitted where the publisher or the importer proposes the bonus sale to all the retailers, at the same time and under the same conditions, or if the bonus sale concerns books specially published for specific distribution channels. Also Article L.121-35 of the French consumer code prohibits bonus sales, except if the bonus offered is identical to the product or the service which is purchased.

In a decision dated 23 May 2007, the Court of Appeal of Paris condemned Wanadoo Emerchant (now France Telecom Ecommerce), owner of the website “” which offered free delivery to customers purchasing books on its website. It ordered it to pay 50,000 euros to the Association of French Book stores for unfair competition due to the violation of the French law dated 10 August 1981. The Court of Appeal of Paris (as the first instance court) considered that in principle, the customer should bear delivery charges. Therefore announcing to customers, as an inducement to buy and a promotion, that it would bear delivery charges constituted a bonus under Articles 6 of the law dated 10 August 1981 and L.121-35 of the French consumer code.

However, the French Supreme Court has recently ruled that the retailer bearing the delivery cost is not a bonus. The French Supreme Court has returned this case to the Court of Appeal of Paris in order for this Court to rule again on this matter. If the Court of Appeal of Paris follows the arguments of the French Supreme Court (which should be the case), online book stores will be authorised to offer free delivery.