Trading Standards for Online Shopping
Customers who purchase goods or services online are protected by the Sale of Goods Act and the Supply of Good and Services Act, just as those who shop on the high street, but they also have additional rights that are provided by the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 and by the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. These cover any purchase that is made without face to face contact, including purchases made using the Internet. These extra legal rights apply to both new and second hand goods.
Purchases that are not covered by the regulations
There is a list of purchases that are exempt from the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. These include financial services, package holidays, gambling and property purchase or rental.
Customers must be given pre-contract information with a clear description of the goods or services provided before the purchase is made. They must also receive contract information after they have made a purchase. Any additional payments, such as insurance policies, must not be shown as pre-ticked boxes but must be expressly agreed. Any phone calls to a trader about the contract must not be charged at more than a basic rate. Pre-contract information is not a requirement for passenger transport services such as air tickets or train tickets, or for any NHS products or services, whether free or on prescription.
Certain pieces of information about the trader must be provided in an easily accessible way. These include their full business name, their geographical address, email address, VAT number and any professional qualifications and trade association memberships. Prices displayed must be clear and include delivery costs and tax information. If the order is being placed using an electronic device that cannot display all this information, it must be available elsewhere, such as on a website.
The trader must give additional information when you place an order online, including the steps that are needed to finalise your contract with a clear indication of the point at which the customer is committed to buying the goods or services. There must be a facility to find and correct any errors in the information given by the customer, and if this is not provided, they have the right to rescind the contract. The trader must inform the consumer if they will be keeping the final contract and if they will give access to it, give details of relevant codes of conduct and terms and conditions and must specify the languages in which the contract can be finalised. An online order must be electronically acknowledged without too much delay, although if an electronic service is purchased, the delivery will count as an acknowledgement.
If the required information is not given, the trader may have committed an offence and can be reported to Trading Standards.
Online purchases have a 14-day 'cooling off period' when the customer has the right to cancel at no charge and receive a refund. There are several exemptions that do not have a right to cancel, including:
- personalised goods or items that have been made to a specification
- vehicle rental
- restaurant bookings
- theatre tickets
- courier services
- goods that can deteriorate quickly, such as flowers or foodstuffs
- visits from traders to undertake urgent repairs or maintenance
- sealed goods that have been opened and cannot be returned for health and hygiene reasons
- sealed computer software, audio and video recording that have been opened after delivery
- digital content cannot be cancelled if it has been streamed or downloaded during the cancellation period, as long as the customer has clearly acknowledged this and given their express consent
The regulations give customers the right to have goods supplied within 30 days after the order is placed unless they agree to a different date. They are entitled to a refund if goods do not arrive by the agreed date, or within 30 days, as long as they have made the trader aware before making the contract that timing is essential. If unsolicited goods are delivered that have not been requested, the consumer has the right to keep these at no charge.
Online verification schemes
There are a number of schemes designed to reassure the consumer that the site they are purchasing from meets online trading standards, such as Trusted Shops and Verisign. An online shop that is certified by Trusted Shops will display the European Trustmark to show that they meet a set of criteria for quality and buyer protection and will offer a money-back guarantee regardless of the payment method. A site that displays a Verisign Trust Seal will have been verified by VeriSign as passing a daily malware scan, using encryption and displaying correct business information and is secured by a VeriSign SSL Certificate.