Regulations for selling online: What your business needs to know

There are certain rules you'll need to consider before you start trading over the internet

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As an online trader you are subject to the same laws as other retailers, such as the Consumer Protection Act, The Sale of Goods Act 1979, and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, as well as a few internet specific ones.

If you’re planning to sell online you will need to be familiar with the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. Nearly all commercial websites are covered by these regulations so there’s no getting away from them, and no excuse for not knowing them.

To comply, your customers must have certain information including your business’ name, physical address and email address. You must also give details of any professional body with which you are registered, and display your VAT registration number if you have one.

The Companies Act 2006 also requires all UK companies to state the company registration number, place of registration, and registered office address on all of their websites. You do not have to display this information on every single web page. It is commonly place on the ‘About us’ section of the site.

As well as displaying the appropriate information on your e-commerce website you must also be aware of the Distance Selling Regulations. These regulations are designed to protect the consumer where they are not actually in the presence of the vendor during a sale. The regulations cover sales made via the internet, email, phone or mail order or digital television. However, they do not apply to business-to-business transactions.

Under the regulations, the seller is required to:

  • Give consumers clear information including details of the goods or services offered, delivery arrangements and payment, the supplier’s details and the consumer’s cancellation rights before they buy. This information must be provided in writing.
  • Give the consumer a right to a cooling-off period to cancel the sale contract within seven working days.
  • Give the consumer written confirmation of their order.
  • Deliver the product within 30 days unless otherwise agreed.

There are however, some exceptions to rules surrounding cancellation of contracts for businesses offering accommodation, transport and catering or leisure services. This only applies where services have been agreed for a specific date or time period.

Other exceptions include the sale of customised or perishable goods, sealed audio or video recordings, or opened software, as well as items or services bought via auctions.

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