online-trading

There can’t be many businesses these days that don’t have an on-line presence, and many of you will have an interactive web-site. Statistics show that currently as much as 81% of purchases of goods and services in the UK are made on-line – and in fact this is one of the highest levels in Europe.

The rise of internet trading is an interesting phenomenon which has developed as our reliance on ICT has snowballed. From being a mere add-on service to regular ‘High Street’ trading, we now have:

‘pure click’ – a company that trades (and has traded) only on the internet, with no physical presence

‘brick to click’ –  a company which started with physical outlets but has now moved on-line

‘click to brick’ – an on-line business that has now also opened a bricks and mortar outlet  (as Amazon has recently done)

‘show-rooming  –  a company which has a physical outlet where customers can see the actual product but where orders have to be placed on-line (with the use of free wi-fi or in-store order terminals as well as conventional on-line ordering)

So, although traditionally the law is slow to catch up with changes in the marketplace, consumer law now covers a whole host of aspects of on-line trading. Breaches are enforced by the Office of Fair Trading and often a high level of publicity is given to high profile traders (or sectors) in breach. This is definitely not the type of publicity you want for your business so beware!

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to attempt to give you detailed guidance on this, but do make sure that your web-site and your purchase procedures comply!

Some points to watch are:

  • all required details of your company to be clearly shown on your website
  • clear and easily understandable information available before an on-line order is placed
  • confirmation of whether contract is filed and whether customer can access
  • website policies such as terms of use, acceptable use, privacy, cookie policy and terms and conditions of business (if using to order goods or services)
  • data protection, collection and storage – you should only be collecting relevant data
  • the website must require a positive action by customer to opt-in for contact by third parties

    If the customer can order online, then there’s a whole host of requirements for pre-contract information. These include:

  • identity, contact address and business address for trader
  • total price or how it’s calculated
  • information about right to cancel, and how it may be lost
  • the model cancellation form from the Consumer Contracts Regulations (even if you provide other means of cancellation
  • whether customer has to pay return postage (you can’t deduct outward postage from refund)
  • after-sales service, guarantees and complaints handling policy
  • no ‘pre-ticked’ boxes on order page
  • customer must explicitly acknowledge that the order implies an obligation to pay. ‘Order now’ is not sufficient!

The above is not an exclusive list, and there are a number of points to cover if the customer wishes to cancel.

It just shows how careful you need to be when using a fast-developing technical process.

Do feel free to share any problems you’ve encountered and how you dealt with these.