Traders selling goods to UK consumers online must comply with a range of legal requirements that protect consumers' rights. Most of these requirements fall under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (the CCRs). The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 also apply. However, other requirements apply to specific sectors and professions.
This guide outlines the legal requirements for traders selling goods (products or digital content) online. It explains the pre-contractual information that online traders must provide to consumers, and lists traders' main responsibilities concerning taking orders and payment, order confirmation, delivery, cancellation and refunds.
Online traders must provide certain pre-contract information to consumers before they place an order. This includes the following information:
All traders must provide their name, which can be their trading name or company name and the geographical address of their business. All traders must also provide contact details that enable consumers to contact them quickly and efficiently and must provide an e-mail address, telephone and fax numbers where available. VAT-registered traders must provide their VAT number.
Traders who are listed in a searchable trade register such as a directory published by a trade body must provide their registration number, or another means of identifying their register entry.
Traders who belong to a regulated profession (for example, a pharmacist or optician) must provide details of their professional regulator, their professional title, the country where they qualified, a reference to the relevant professional rules and information about how the trader can be contacted. For a list of regulated professions in the UK published by the Centre for Professional Qualifications, go to ecctis.co.uk
Traders must provide clear descriptions of the main characteristics of the products or digital content that they are offering for sale online, includiung the total price of the goods (including VAT and any other taxes. Where this price cannot be calculated in advance, the trader must state how it will be calculated. For example, the price for goods sold by weight can be expressed as the price per unit weight. Where the order is for a regular delivery of goods, or an ongoing subscription, the trader must provide details of the monthly cost (or cost per billing period) and the minimum duration of the consumer's obligations under the contract.
Any and all delivery charges, including any other additional charges should be clearly stated. For charges such as gift wrapping or installation, where these charges cannot be calculated in advance, the trader must make it clear that they may be payable.
All available payment option should be clear to consumers.
Detaill all arrangements, including expected delivery times.
The trader is required by law to supply goods that conform to the sales contract between the trader and the consumer, and must detail any warranties that apply to the goods.
The ordering process
The process of ordering goods should be clealy described, including:
- The steps involved in placing an order
- How to identify and correct any errors before placing an order.
- The language(s) that can be used to place an order, such as English or Welsh.
Traders must provide details of the terms and conditions, time limit and procedure for cancellation and a statement that the consumer is responsible for the cost of returning goods. (However, traders are required to pay for the cost of the customer returning goods if they are faulty, not as described or not fit for purpose). This information can be provided by using a copy of the Model Instructions for Cancellation, set out by Part A of Schedule 2 to the CCRs. Traders must also make clear the circumstances in which the right to cancel may be lost, for example if digital content is downloaded before the cancellation period has expired. Certain goods are exempt from the right to cancel - for example perishable goods or personalised goods. In such cases, the pre-contractual information must include a statement that the consumer has no right to cancel.
Detail all codes of conduct or out-of-court redress procedures the trader has agreed to adhere to, such as any alternative dispute resolution schemes that are relevant.
Product-specific details required by law
Suppliers of digital content must provide information about the content's functionality, such as any technical protection measures; and information about the compatibility of the content with software or hardware that the trader is, or should reasonably be, aware of.
Generally, consumers purchasing goods online have a 14-day cooling-off period to cancel their order.
However, certain goods are exempt from the right to cancel. These include:
- Perishable goods such as fresh food, flowers and plants.
- Bespoke or personalised goods.
- Goods that are supplied in sealed packaging for health or hygiene reasons, where the seal has been broken.
- Computer software or audio or video recordings supplied in sealed packaging, where the seal has been broken.
- Newspapers, periodicals or magazines (although subscription contracts are subject to cancellation rights).
- Medicines or medicinal products administered under a prescription.
- Goods that are price-dependant on fluctuations in the financial market, provided that these fluctuations cannot be controlled by the trader and occur within the cooling-off period. Such goods are usually purchased for investment rather than consumption and include, for example, shares or commodities.
If a consumer places a single online order that includes exempt and non-exempt goods, they have a right to cancel the non-exempt goods, unless it is physically impossible to separate them from the exempt goods once they have been delivered.
The cooling-off period
Normally, the cooling-off period ends 14 days after the day when the consumer receives the goods. However, the following exceptions apply:
- Where a consumer orders multiple products, or a single product that is supplied in various pieces, the cooling-off period ends 14 days after the last of the products or pieces is delivered.
- Where the order is for a regular delivery of goods, such as a monthly food hamper, the cooling-off period ends 14 days after the day when the first delivery is made.
- Where a consumer purchases digital content for download or streaming, the cooling-off period ends 14 days after the day when they place their order. The right to cancel doesn't apply if the consumer has given their consent to receive the digital content within the cooling-off period.
Model Cancellation Form
Online traders must give consumers who cancel their order the option of using a cancellation form provided on their website. This can be based on a model cancellation form viewable at www.legislation.gov.uk. If the consumer uses the cancellation form provided online, the retailer must confirm its receipt and acknowledge the cancellation of the order.
Download our full factsheet, which expands on the information provided above, discusses taking online orders and payments, fulfilment and refunds. The guide also provides hints and tips and sources of further information.