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Opening an online shop? Your legal requirements

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Whether you're starting a brand new business or you're an established retailer, taking your business online offers an exciting growth opportunity. But before you set up and sell, make sure you know your legal obligations when it comes to distance and online selling.

Dealing with customers online exclusively, offering products and/or services, can have lower overhead costs than traditional businesses operating out of a brick-and-mortar property.

According to the Office for National Statistics (in a statistical bulletin dated June 2018), online sales account for 18% of total retail sales in the UK, with consumers spending more than ever online in clothing and footwear stores. The United Kingdom is, in fact, the third largest e-commerce market in the world, after China and the United States.

However, different countries have different laws and knowing which ones apply to you is critical. Remember that the law is subject to regular revisions so make sure you stay informed to protect yourself and your business.

There are several regulations which come into force when it comes to selling online via your website or other means such as email, including the Consumer Contract Regulations, the Consumer Rights Act and the E-Commerce Regulations to name a few.

Make sure your website is compliant by:

•    Providing a postal address on there with the real location of your business – not a PO box.

•    Clearly displaying your company registration and VAT number.

•    In addition to a contact form, providing an actual email address.

•    By providing clear and concise information about your products before purchase and how a customer can cancel or return their order. All goods are subject to a 14 day returns period (excluding perishable goods and digital downloads).

•     If a right of cancellation exists the customer must be given, or have access to, a cancellation form. Goods with no right to cancel include medicinal products, bus, rail or flight tickets, bespoke items and perishables including flowers and meat.

•    Making sure you provide information on any codes of conduct you are subject to or alternative dispute resolution schemes and how to access them.

•    With digital good ensure you provide information on geographical restrictions, hardware and software compatibility and any additional purchases required for example.

•    Ensuring your prices include all costs upfront, such as delivery charges and tax.

•    Clearly displaying your terms and conditions – even better, provide a tick box so customers have to confirm they have read and accepted these before purchasing. These should include details of how customer data is used and how people can remove their data..

•    Once a customer enters into a distance contract with you, you must provide confirmation of the contract.

Your terms and conditions

The terms and conditions of your site are very important and will vary for every online business. It is important that the terms and conditions are properly drafted, as poorly drafted terms and conditions will expose your business to unnecessary risk.

They should include:

•    Who is selling the product, together with your business and email address
•    A clear description of what the customer is getting and what it will cost
•    Information regarding your delivery arrangements

Your terms and conditions should be provided in a format which can be printed or saved, so avoid pop-up windows and ensure they fit within the width of the page and are presented in a way that will print properly.

The customer should check a box to indicate that he or she has read, understood and accepted your terms and conditions, before clicking an Accept button. The button should not work until the box has been checked and the page should be designed so the customer cannot check the box and click Accept until the page has fully loaded onto the screen. By doing this, you improve your position in the event a customer claims there was no opportunity to read your terms.

This blog is not meant to be taken as official legal advice and we recommend you always seek professional legal advice if you have questions about your specific situation.

Need help and advice in avoiding online legal pitfalls? Contact Carolyn Brooksbank at Hibberts Solicitors on 01270 215117 or email cjb@hibberts.com