Selling online? You could be breaking the law

Almost half of the country’s top online retailers are not properly complying with consumer protection law.

This is according to new research from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which conducted a ‘sweep’ of 156 websites. Some 62 of those sites were found to not be fully compliant with the Distance Selling Regulations or other consumer protection laws.

The OFT has written to the businesses in question, which will face formal enforcement if they fail to take action. But the research has implications for businesses of every size, and highlights the potential implications for those that do not comply.

What did the OFT find?

The OFT’s investigation found three key areas of concern.

• A third of those websites surveyed seem to impose unreasonable restrictions on refunds. Of these, the most common was a stipulation that the product must be returned in its original condition or original packaging – a restriction that, according to the OFT, “can infringe on consumers’ rights to reasonably inspect/assess the product.”
• Almost two thirds provided only a contact form, as opposed to an email address, in apparent contravention of the E-Commerce Regulations.

• Of the 60 per cent of sites that indicated that compulsory extra charges would be added, almost a quarter also added further charges at the point of checkout, without prior warning.

What do I need to do?

It is vital that you familiarise yourself with the Distance Selling Regulations, and that you are compliant with them. The DSRs apply in cases where products or services are sold without face-to-face contact, and in which the customer has not been able to examine the goods or discuss the service in person prior to their purchase.

Read some of the main provisions of the Distance Selling Regulations elsewhere on the Simply Business site, or read the OFT’s guide.

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