What You Need to Know: E-Commerce, Websites and The Law

When selling products online there's a whole host of laws you must adhere to. So make sure your customers and business are protected

What You Need to Know: E-Commerce, Websites and The Law

In the world we now live in, having a website or e-commerce site now goes hand in hand with running a successful business. Whether you use it as a platform to display your services, as an informational source or to sell from; a website is now absolutely key to business success. Without one, you’re certainly likely to be left lagging behind your competitors.

The internet has allowed many businesses to start-up online rather than in traditional stores or office premises; enabling businesses to cut back on costs and reach audiences that were previously unreachable. However, along with revolutionising our lives, the internet has also revolutionised the laws required to safeguard this unknown territory.

Running a website and in particular, selling goods online, comes with a set of regulations which you’ll need to adhere to. These regulations are in place to protect both your business and customers, so it’s worth taking note of the advice from Taylor Rose TTKW below to avoid being caught out by the law or angry customers.

Consumer rights

We’ve all heard of the saying, ‘the customer is always right’ – whether we’ve been on the receiving end of the comment or the one dishing it out. Well, the phrase has perhaps never been more true than when you operate through a website – as the laws in place regarding distance selling make it hard for the customer to be wrong.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations applies to all purchases made at a distance (internet, phone etc). These regulations state that the seller must display the following information for the services or goods provided;

  • Description
  • Price
  • Delivery costs
  • Cancellation rights – including who pays the costs of returns
  • Information about the 14 day ‘cooling-off period’
  • Minimum contract duration
  • Information about the seller

In one of the biggest changes to consumer law, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 replaced the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Supply of Goods and Services Act to provide one uniformed piece of legislation. The act covers the following areas, and you’ll certainly need to ensure you know the law inside and out to avoid putting your business at risk;

  • Product quality
  • Returning goods
  • Repairs and replacements
  • Digital content rights
  • Delivery rights

Data protection

The Data Protection Act is in place to protect any data collected by a business or retailer. We live in a nation where we share data every day – whether we are aware we’re doing it or not. The digital world is a hard place to keep data safe, but it is continually improving, with many businesses adopting the latest technology to keep their customers and business safe.

Whether you’re selling online or just asking customers to fill out a contact form, you need to display how you plan on collecting and using data. While a retailer will need to disclose addresses and other contact details in order to deliver an item, if this was disclosed to a third party then consent is required.

The Data Protection Act is also linked to privacy laws in the UK, which details how the balance between privacy and what information can be shared. These are based on 8 principles:

  • Personal data must be processed lawfully and fairly
  • Information obtained should be lawful and for specified purposes
  • Personal data should be relevant in relation to its purpose
  • Personal data should be accurate and kept up to date where necessary
  • Personal data should be processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act
  • Technical and organisational measures should be taken against unlawful or unauthorised processing of personal data. Including against accidental or intended destruction of data
  • Personal data should not be transferred to another territory outside the European Economic Area, unless they meet the standard of protection of rights and freedom of data

By law, you also need to make those who come into contact with your website aware of the Cookie Law. Cookies are small data files which are stored in people’s web browsers to remember web pages or visits made across the internet. These are then used to create a more personalised experience for views. If you plan on using cookies on your website, then you’ll need to provide an ‘opt-out’ button for those who don’t wish to be targeted in this way.

Terms and conditions

Terms and conditions are essential to ensure your business is protected against every eventuality which could occur. They not only protect your business, but also ensure your customers are aware of the terms and conditions of entering your site or making a purchase from you.

The terms and conditions you set out are largely dictated by the site you are operating and the laws which govern your industry. You should be as transparent as possible in the terms you set out. Selling without human interaction is tricky and can lead consumers to be wary of you if they don’t feel the site they are on will protect them in every way possible.

Payments online

Keeping financial details safe online is one of the highest priorities for both businesses and consumers alike. As a business you should ensure your site complies with all security guidelines set out by the UK government to protect important and personal data.

A HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is much more secure than a standard HTTP connection. So much so, that Google not rank HTTPS site higher on Google than those who aren’t as secure. HTTPS sites use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security) to protect information online.

Many websites deploy a two-step verification process to ensure consumers are safeguarded against potential fraud cases. Card companies such as Visa and MasterCard use security measures which help to verify the cardholder’s details with additional security questions and passwords. PayPal is one of the most common independent online payment systems, however, when using PayPal as your preferred payment method you’ll need to ensure your data protection policies match up.

The digital world is one which is constantly changing, as such you’ll need to ensure you’re constantly up to date with the latest digital policies put in place. Ultimately, they are in place to protect you as a business and ensure customers see you as a safe and secure place they can get information or purchase from.

Taylor Rose are a law firm with offices throughout the UK specialising in private, commercial, solicitor and corporate law


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