Online and Distance Selling in the UK

If you're thinking of starting up a company or you're running a business in the UK, then expanding your operations onto the Internet should be considered a priority. Nowadays, large proportions of consumers have access to the Internet and prefer to shop for their products and services on-line. You might find that you can significantly increase your sales by setting up a web-page.

You need to be aware of the rules and regulations that you need to follow if you are selling products and services at a distance. Whether it's shopping on-line, mail order, over the phone or through a TV shopping channel, the convenience comes with extra protection for both consumers and shopkeepers.

Distance Selling and Consumer Contracts Regulations

In the UK, up to 13 June 2014, it was the Distance Selling Regulations that governed how store-owners should comply with the law. But since that date, the new Consumer Contracts Regulations have been implemented with some updates on what is required.

The main things to remember if you are setting up a website:

  • You cannot charge clients on your website additional items that are added by a pre-ticked box.
  • Clients can cancel a service contract on-line, such as a gym membership, up to 14 days after they have entered the contract.
  • You should have the means to refund clients within 14 days for any products that are legitimately refunded.

These and many other regulations are designed to make it easier and safer for consumers to shop on the Internet.

Will This Increase Operational Costs?

In most cases, your business should not suffer from any increases to costs because of these new regulations. If you are providing digital goods over the Internet, they fall into a different category and in many cases cannot be refunded.

You can find out more information about different consumer rights contracts on the Which website.

Do You Need to Register for VAT?

If you are registered as a business in the UK then you will most likely have to register for VAT. If you are a business who is selling over the Internet or by using other distance selling channels, then you will need to register for VAT if your distance sales are greater than £70,000 in a single year. If you are selling products such as alcohol or tobacco then you need to register regardless of how much you are selling. A registered tax accountant can help you with this.

Where to Sell Your Products and Services

There are many different places to sell your products and services over the Internet. Most retailers will start either with their own website or through a third-party distributor such as:

  • - one of the largest international retailers of on-line goods and services; many retailers are selling through this company and are able to make good profit margins
  • eBay - another generalist on-line seller, but also allows retailers to sell goods and services as auctions; a more direct way to go from buyer to seller as well
  • Gumtree - a more grass-roots/Indie service that is for facilitating direct trade between buyers and sellers
  • - Google's on-line retail service, which is mostly for technology companies and other digital goods and services

There are many other smaller on-line retailers which cater to specific audiences, such as Etsy, Zazzle, Cafepress and others, which will allow you to create and sell artistic products and services.

Selling on Your Own Website

Many businesses also use their own website to sell their products and services. Or you might have a combination, where you sell products on third-party sites and your own services on your own website. By combining your different on-line assets you will be able to reach a broader spectrum of customers and help to increase your sales in all areas.

It can be challenging to create your own website for your business, which is why it is a good idea to work with a third-party provider who can help you not only with all the basics, but with making your site truly stand out in your particular industry or niche. By working with a web marketing agency, a graphic designer, or even a search engine optimisation specialist, you can get a lot of exposure to your website and increase impressions.

Marketing on Social Networks

Another great way to bring exposure to your on-line assets is to work on marketing your products and services with widely-used social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You will be able to share content such as articles, white papers, info-graphics, videos or links to other products, services and information that you yourself endorse or condone.

By learning how to market your business in the appropriate manner and by adhering to the regulations that protect both online consumers and internet based businesses, you will present a trustworthy image to your on-line audience. After you reach a certain point, you may also want to outsource a lot of your additional marketing, networking and content creation to third-party suppliers so you can focus on product pioneering, research and development.