Consumer protection – distance selling regulations for your business

distance selling regulations

When you’re passionate about your business, you’ll believe in the value of your products and want to share them with as many customers as possible. Historically, you’d be limited to your location and marketing reach – but not anymore.

Distance selling allows you to sell and ship your products far and wide.

But selling over large distances comes with regulations that businesses have to follow. Keep reading to find out more about how you can sell your goods far and wide in this guide.

What is distance selling?

Distance selling is the sale of products without the buyer or seller needing to be in the same place. This is something that has become easier thanks to modern technologies allowing you to make sales from almost anywhere.

From online shops to deals made over the phone, as long as you’re not in the same room as one another, you’re completing a distance sale.

Some other examples of distance selling include email orders, texts, or even orders made via the post. Distance selling crosses a range of industries and sectors and creates a great opportunity to widen your customer reach and expand on new markets.

What is online selling?

One common business model which relies on distance selling is online selling. Online selling is often called ecommerce and, much like distance selling, doesn’t require the two transactional parties to be in the same place.

Long gone are the days of needing a brick and mortar shop to conduct your retail business, as online stores can be less limiting to sellers who embrace this technology. As well as giving business owners more flexibility and market reach, running an online store means you can save on some associated costs such as shop rent or employing sales staff.

You can find out more about starting an online shop in our guide.

Distance selling laws and regulations

While there are many benefits to distance selling, there are also regulations and laws that you’ll need to follow. You may be familiar with the term ‘distance selling regulations’ – but these rules were changed in 2014. To make sure you’re following the correct regulations, you’ll need to follow the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.

The consumer contract regulations include certain criteria that you need to provide your customer in order to make a distance sale – whether this be online, over the phone, or by mail order.

Before an order is placed

Make sure that your place of sale includes the following information:

  • your business name, contact information, and address
  • a description of the product or service
  • price (including taxes)
  • ways to pay
  • delivery options – including any costs and shipping times
  • the minimum length of contract and billing period
  • conditions for ending the contract – including how and when the customer can cancel (and any reasonable costs they’ll need to pay)

All this information will need to be written in a way that’s easy for your customer to understand. It must be easily available and your customer needs to be able to save it for future reference.

Depending on your business, you may need to provide even more information. This can include details on paid deposits, information on digital content, or any further associated costs of the product. You can find out more about what you need to include when distance selling on the government website.

After an order is placed

Once an order has been placed, you’ll need to provide your customer with a copy of the contract of sale that can be saved for future reference. This is often sent by email but can be in any format that can be easily saved to look back at.

You need to provide the contract no later than when the goods are delivered – and you’ll need to deliver the product within 30 days, unless this has been communicated otherwise.

If you’re selling online, there’s also additional requirements you need to fulfil when distance selling.

Make sure you read our guide on international shipping from the UK if you plan to sell overseas.

Distance selling regulations returns information

Your customer has the right to return a product bought by distance selling. This is often called the right to cancel or a cooling off period. You need to let your customer know that they can cancel their order up to 14 days after it has been delivered. Your customer doesn’t need to provide a reason for cancelling.

If you fail to tell your customer about their right to cancel, they’re able to cancel their order at any time in the next 12 months. If you inform them about their right to cancel during this time period, they then have 14 days to cancel their order.

The government website has more information about accepting returns and issuing refunds.

Distance selling regulations exceptions

Whilst it’s a good idea to follow the above guidelines, there are occasionally exceptions to the rules. These will differ by industry and business model, and you can find out more about times these regulations don’t apply here.

Consequences of not following distance selling rules

It’s important that you follow the consumer contract regulations. If your business fails to follow these regulations, you could have to:

  • provide the goods or services
  • pay compensation
  • pay an unlimited fine or serve a prison sentence

By following these rules, your business should be able to sell its products and offer services regardless of distance.

Do you sell your products online? Let us know if it’s improved your customer reach in the comments below.

More selling guides for small businesses

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Rosanna Parrish

Rosanna Parrish is a Copywriter at Simply Business specialising in side hustles – as well as all things freelance, social media, and ecommerce. She’s been writing professionally for nine years. Starting her career in health insurance, she also worked in education marketing before returning to the insurance world.

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