There have been a lot of changes in recent months to regulations regarding websites and their obligations to the consumer – the most highly publicised of late is the EU requirement for retailers to notify consumers about their cookie usage policy. In light of this it’s easy to see how some businesses may be struggling to remain compliant. To address this the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has notified 62 of the major online UK retailers that their websites may be in breach of key Distance Selling Regulations and consumer protection laws – which, given the upcoming Christmas rush, poses some significant legal risks for those involved.
In a sweep of 156 retail websites, the OFT identified that 60% of retail websites only provided a contact form, failing in their legal obligation to also provide a direct email address. Additionally a third of sites detailed cancellation policies that imposed excessive limitations on a customer’s entitlement to refunds – these included demands that products must remain in the original condition, preventing customers from properly getting to inspect their product. Finally, whilst 60% of sites did indicate upfront that there were additional costs to be added to payments, 24% continued to add additional charges at payment that had not been outlined.
Despite this, there were also plenty of areas where the OFT found very high levels of compliance. Almost all sites provided details of when products would be delivered or services rendered. Also – when payment is required in advance – 95% of sites provided their full geographical address, as required by regulation.
Whilst non-compliant business face a huge risk of attracting legal enforcement from the OFT or Local Trading Standards Services, there is not a lack of support for businesses that want to swot up on the rules. The OFT has created the Distance Selling Hub, a guidance tool to help enterprises resolve any compliance issues and providing key tips to help businesses avoid coming unstuck around online regulations.
Ultimately making sure you’re in-line with regulations is simple; dealing with the fallout from non-compliance is where things get tricky.