When selling online or by some other distance-selling method, there are several key sets of regulations you should be aware of. The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations cover businesses that sell to consumers by mail order, phone, fax, over the internet or on digital TV.

Generally these regulations require you to:

  • provide consumers with specified information before they order
  • provide consumers with specified written information in a durable medium prior to the conclusion of a contract
  • send consumers an order confirmation
  • give consumers the right to a cancellation period

The Electronic Commerce Regulations place some similar requirements on businesses that sell or advertise products to businesses using the internet, email, interactive digital television or mobile-phone SMS text messages. Whether you sell to businesses or consumers online, the regulations also require you to:

  • clearly identify commercial communications as such
  • outline the steps that need to be taken for a contract to be concluded

Other laws you must comply with

Remember you must still comply with a range of other laws on the supply of goods and services. In particular you must ensure:

  • goods are fit for their purpose and of satisfactory quality under the Sale of Goods Act
  • products are exactly as you describe them under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations

You must also comply with privacy and data-protection law when contacting customers or processing any personal information about your customers.

Provide consumers with clear information

Businesses that sell to consumers by mail order, phone, fax, internet or digital TV must give clear and comprehensible ‘prior information’ to help them decide whether to buy. Distance-selling regulations require you to set out:

  • your business name and address (when advance payment is required)
  • a description of the goods
  • prices, including all taxes
  • delivery costs
  • payment arrangements
  • arrangements and date for delivery of goods – within 30 days of the order if you don’t specify a date
  • the consumer’s right to cancel the order and details of who bears the cost of returning the goods if they do
  • how long prices remain valid

You must also specify if you want to offer substitute goods if those ordered aren’t available. If you do, you must make it clear that you’ll meet the costs if any replacement goods are returned. You must provide this information before the order is placed.

Unless the information has already been provided in written form – eg an advertisement or brochure – you must also confirm it in writing, at the latest when the goods are delivered. You must also state:

  • how and when the consumer can cancel the order
  • your geographic address
  • any guarantees or after-sales services that apply

The consumer can cancel the agreement up to seven days after the goods are delivered.

The cooling-off period and cancellations

When selling to consumers online you must give them a cooling-off period during which they have an unconditional right to cancel the contract.

In the case of goods, the cooling-off period normally ends seven working days after the day the goods are received.
Consumers must inform you in writing – by letter, fax or email – of their decision to cancel.

Consumers’ money should be reimbursed in full (including postage costs) as soon as possible – and in any case within a maximum period of 30 days.

Your contract with the consumer should also specify who pays any postage necessary to return unwanted goods.