Many retailers are realising that selling their goods to consumers via the internet is not as simple as listing in-store products on their websites.
Compliance with the applicable regulations, and in particular the Distance Selling Regulations 2000, before embarking upon a commercial web presence is vital in order to ensure legitimate trading.
The Distance Selling Regulations 2000(the Regulations), which implemented the EC Distance Selling Directive in the UK, apply to any businesses selling to consumers where there is no face to face contact (eg online, over the telephone, TV shopping, mail order).
There are exceptions to the Regulations and special cases where the Regulations apply only in part. The Regulations have conferred additional rights to consumers when buying goods or services from businesses at a distance, in order to attempt to counteract the fact that the goods or services cannot be inspected prior to purchase.
The Regulations require distance suppliers to provide consumers with clear information about goods and services before they decide to buy and provide confirmation of that information in writing.
The Regulations also provide for a cooling off period of seven working days during which the consumer can withdraw from the contract.
Because goods have to be bought unseen, consumers have an automatic right to return goods for any reason and to receive a full refund within certain time limits.
Once the consumer has cancelled the order all monies paid must be returned within thirty days of the date of cancellation.
The distance supplier is also under an obligation to perform the contract within a certain time period and the Regulations also provide the consumer with some credit card protection.
It is important to ensure that suppliers are aware of the Regulations and that their terms of business comply with and include all the information required. If a supplier acts contrary to the Regulations, a consumer who has suffered damage as a result of the breach, may sue the supplier and claim damages for all losses suffered.