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Law for Business

Knowhow - guidance - precedents

11 DEC 2012

Make sure your website complies with consumer protection law


The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) reported earlier this month that it had surveyed a number of websites and found that many did not comply with consumer protection law.

The Distance Selling Regulations and the E-Commerce Regulations are the main regulations that govern buying and selling online. These regulations require e-commerce websites to provide certain information to their consumers, and set out what rights consumers have when purchasing goods and/or services online.

The OFT report highlighted some key areas for concern:

  1. Consumers were not being clearly informed of their legal rights in terms of returning items and receiving refunds. For example, consumers were being prohibited from returning items where the packaging had been opened or were told they have to return items using the original packaging. Consumers should have a reasonable opportunity to inspect the products, which may involve opening the packaging and assessing the product;
  2. Online retailers must provide full and correct contact details on their websites including an email address (not an enquiries form); and
  3. Pricing details should be clear on e-commerce websites: Often the OFT found that compulsory additional charges were being added at the point of checkout.

The Senior Director of the Goods and Consumer Group at OFT, Cavendish Elithorn, said:

'The OFT recognises that most businesses want to play fair with their customers and to comply with the law. We encourage all online retailers to check their websites so customers can be confident their rights are being respected when they shop online.'

We would highlight the importance of a clear e-commerce process on retail websites together with clear, intelligible "consumer friendly" terms and conditions. If the OFT decide to take formal action against online retailers that are breaching consumer protection law, there is also a real risk of reputational damage in consumer's eyes.

For more information on consumer protection law in an online context and how to ensure that your website complies with the law please contact Rehman Noormohamed, Partner and Head of Technology, Media and Communication, or Tom Torkar, Associate Solicitor in the Technology, Media and Communications team at Michelmores.

For the OFT's press release please see here.

For more information, please contact emily.timmins@michelmores.com.

Disclaimer: This information has been prepared by Michelmores LLP as a general guide only and does not constitute legal advice on any specific matter and should not be relied upon as such. We recommend that you seek professional advice before taking action. No liability can be accepted by us for any action taken or not taken as a result of this information.

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