The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) recently conducted a pre-Christmas review of 156 retailer websites and found that many of them were not fully complying with the Consumer Protection Distance Selling Regulations and the Electronic Commerce Regulations.
These regulations cover “distance selling” and, in particular, the rights of consumers to receive certain minimum information prior to ordering goods as well as their rights following ordering or receiving them. The regulations are compulsory and cannot be excluded by retailers. Distance selling arises where the retailer is not dealing with the customer directly i.e. “face to face” but instead either through a website, by text or by telephone.
The review by the OFT for potential breaches of the Distance Selling Regulations and other consumer protections laws is part of the OFT’s ongoing work to ensure that consumers are able to shop confidently online.
Key failures found by the OFT included:-
- Imposing unreasonable restrictions on customers’ rights to a refund. The most common of which was to require the customer to return the product in the original packaging or in the original condition. This can infringe on consumers’ rights to reasonably inspect/assess the product.
- Failing to provide an email contact address (a web Contact Form is insufficient). Some retailers provided no electronic contact details at all.
- Indicating up front that compulsory charges would be added to the price shown but then adding further unexpected charges at the Checkout.
The review serves as a warning to online retailers to ensure that their websites and practices are compliant with the law in this area. The OFT has indicated that traders not complying with the law will face enforcement action by the OFT or local Trading Standards. Therefore any business that is involved in distance selling cannot afford to sit back and wait until they receive a visit from the local Trading Standards Officer which could ultimately lead to an injunction being granted against the business which, coupled with any adverse publicity, could have devastating impact on the business.
To avoid enforcement action from the OFT and other consumer protection bodies, businesses that sell to customers over the internet should review their websites and the terms on which they sell their goods and services to make sure that they comply with consumer protection law.
At Blacks, we can assist in reviewing your terms and conditions to ensure that they comply with the relevant law and any disputes that arise from them.
Luke Patel 0113 227 9316
Commercial Dispute Resolution Department