How to Ensure Your Business Stays Compliant with UK eCommerce Regulations and Guidelines

In August 2002, the UK passed the Electronic Commerce (EC) Directive into law. These regulations implement the European Union Electronic Commerce Directive of 2000. Along with the Data Protection Act implemented in 1998, this directive forms the bulk of the regulations every retailer operating out of United Kingdom - online as well as offline - must adhere to.

The following information will guide you through these regulations and help your business ensure compliance with the law.

The Electronic Commerce Regulations Scope and Application

The EC Regulations are very broad in scope and essentially apply to every business with a website. The original law applied to every "information society services", which was a vague term for websites that sold goods or services in exchange for remuneration of any sort. Since then, the Department of Trade and Industry has clarified that the Regulations also apply to "services that are not directly remunerated by those who receive them", i.e. blogs, data portals, computer software providers, etc. who benefit financially in any way from their activities.

Essentially, the Regulations apply to every website that engages in any sort of commercial activity. It doesn't matter whether you sell an eBook of recipes, run a blog that makes a substantial enough income to be registered as a business, or maintain a small business that sells its products online, you will still have to comply with the regulations. It also doesn't matter whether your website domain is registered outside the UK, or whether your site is hosted on non-UK servers. As long as the majority of your business is conducted in the UK, you will still be liable to uphold the 2002 EC Directive.

How to Ensure Compliance with UK eCommerce Guidelines

The 2002 Regulations place the burden of full disclosure of the website's purpose and primary activity on the business. Under no circumstances is any business allowed to falsify information about itself. At the same time, the business is liable to follow consumer laws and must ensure that consumer interest is protected at all costs.

Things to include on your website

As per the Regulations, any business or individual engaging in any commercial activity must declare the following information in a visible portion of its website:

  • The complete name of your business. Also include it in all business purpose emails sent from your accounts.
  • Your company registration number. Again, include in all business purpose emails.
  • Place where your company was registered. To also be included in emails.
  • The complete address of your business as declared in the company registration.
  • The complete VAT registration number of your business.
  • If you're currently operating out of an office other than the one listed in the company registration, list this as well.
  • If you or your business is registered with any professional body or union, list this as well.
  • If the services rendered by your business come under the purview of a supervising body, you must list this explicitly.

Pricing and Terms of Sale

  • If selling a product, you must explicitly indicate whether VAT and delivery charges are included or not, preferably on the product page itself.
  • Include detailed terms of the transaction.
  • Include detailed information on procedures for cancelling the product or service.
  • If you offer any guarantees, you must list this out explicitly.
  • Explicitly specify terms of the after-sales service (if offered).
  • Include information on product delivery, including courier used (if any).
  • Include a helpline for dealing with customer service related queries.

Collecting and Storing Data

  • If you collect customer data via cookies, you must explicitly specify so on your website and include a disclaimer about how you use said cookies.
  • Include information about your data collection and usage policies.

So far, this covers all the information you must include on your website to comply with the Regulations. However, there are a few more things you need to do in order to fully comply with the law.

Business Obligations to Comply with UK eCommerce Directive

The UK Ecommerce directive treats online commerce like any other business. This means an online store is subject to the same scrutiny as a physical store, and that customers retain the same rights as they would when dealing with a conventional bricks and mortar business. Thus, to stay in compliance of the law, your business must:

  • Offer a written confirmation as soon as possible after a customer has placed an order.
  • Acknowledge receipt of a payment after receiving it, with a written communication.
  • You must deliver all ordered goods within 30 days, unless the customer explicitly agreed to different delivery terms.
  • All customers must be given a 7 day period in which they can return a product for a full refund without giving any explicit reasons. Certain products (CDs, DVDs, undergarments, socks, etc.) are exempt from this. Certain contract services, such as hotel wi-fi, concert tickets for a specific date, etc. are also exempt.
  • Ensure that all collected data is stored and processed properly in compliance with the Data Protection Act.

Conclusion

The laws and regulations relating to online businesses can seem a bit intimidating, but as long as you follow solid customer service practices, list out all information about your business explicitly, and include proper cancellation, delivery and pricing information, you should have no difficulty complying with the law. If you have any concerns at all you may wish to consult with a solicitor to ensure your business is fully compliant with these regulations.