Internet Shopping and Consumer Rights

With global Internet sales increasing year on year consumer choice and robust customer support mechanisms are fast becoming the key differentiators for the consumer when purchasing goods and services online. But not every Internet company has got it right.

So, what can you do to ensure the consumer keeps on returning to your website and you stay on the right side of the law? E RADAR discusses Internet Shopping and Consumer Rights.

There's nothing worse than buying goods or services over the Internet only to find that you're not happy with your purchase. And when something does go wrong trying to contact the supplier to get help often becomes a mammoth task in itself. Almost as challenging as climbing Mount EverestI

Many etailers, including some major brands just don't get it. Or maybe they do, but take the attitude that 'we've got your money now, bog off!' The whole point about the Internet is that it is fast and efficient. So, if something does go wrong for the consumer they want the matter dealt with quickly in order to get redress.

Not always the case. Some websites will take you through a whole series of questions which you have to answer before you get the customer contact details. Other sites just won't give you anything. And the most annoying part of the customer service process is when you call the company and are then faced with 1001 telephone options... 'Press 1 for tech support, 2 for accounts...' and so on... If the Internet is the age of speed contacting some UK customer service teams by telephone can often throw you back into the Dark Ages.

Internet Shopping and Consumer Rights

So, how do you keep the consumer happy? Why not use some tried and tested legal rules to help you! Whilst there's plenty of red tape rules to hinder your business (that's another article) there's also many good rules to help you promote trust and confidence with the consumer.

Here's some points to consider

1. Comply with the Distance Selling rules

The consumer needs to know who you are and what you do – it builds trust and confidence. Under Distance Selling rules, you must make clear who you are by providing full contact details including an address and phone number.

2. Offer 7 day return option

Under Distance Selling rules, you must accept goods for return within 7 working days. Why not make this a selling point? At the top of your homepage you will no doubt display your returns policy.  Add in some simple bullet points that explain your policy in plain English to help alleviate consumer anxiety. When customers are busy they need quick facts.

3. Get your VAT registration right

You must be VAT registered if your annual sales exceed £60,000. If you’re not VAT registered, you don’t have to worry about charging VAT and it would actually be against the law to do so.

4. Understand tax on shipping

People often don’t understand the finer points of VAT.

For instance, if your products are a mixture of VATable and non-VATable, then the VAT charged on shipping should be in proportion to the mixture of VATable and non-VATable goods. Make sure your e-commerce solution can handle all of the VAT rules.

5. Exempt EU business buyers from tax

If the consumer is a non-UK business in the EU and is registered for VAT in their own country, they are allowed to quote their VAT registration number to you in order to be exempted from tax. If you can’t accommodate this, those customers are likely to look elsewhere.

6. Charge the country VAT rate if you exceed the country VAT threshold

Not many people know this, but if your online store is wildly successful and you are starting to turn over serious bucks selling into other EU countries, you hit some additional regulations.  If you exceed the individual VAT threshold for Germany, France, etc. then you should charge VAT at the appropriate country VAT rate when selling into that country, not the usual UK 20% rate.

7. Remember your jurisdiction

We’re in the EU so we are bound by EU rules.  It’s not the same when handling US buyers. US states might want to charge tax on sales into their area, but it’s their responsibility to levy this tax.  You don’t have to charge this “use tax” which is between the buyer and the state where they live. So as a UK business you can sell into the US tax-free.

8. Allow for disabled users – it’s the law!

Make sure that you comply with the disability laws.  The key requirement is that you have to take “reasonable” steps to provide access to people with disabilities, and this includes your online store. One way of doing that is to make sure that all images have alternate text tags so visually impaired people can still navigate your site. After all, the UK disability sector is worth some £50 billion per year.

9. Privacy matters

You will need to notify the Information Commissioner that you are processing personal data. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that personal information about your customers and suppliers is simply business data. It’s not!

Notification takes just a few hours of intense work and thought. We can always help you complete your notification for a small fee. Just ask!

Remember also that new privacy rules on the use of cookies were introduced in May 2011!

10. Comply with the rules on sending email

You are only allowed to send direct email marketing to individuals who have agreed to receive it from you by directly opting in.  It is not sufficient simply to provide an opt out.

However, if you obtained their details in the course of making a sale the rules are different. You are allowed to continue communicating with them provided there is a free method of opting out each time you send them an email. You can also provide the opt out by email.