By Lois Wiegand

Trading on the internet

Ensuring that your website complies with current legislation can be a minefield. Not only do you have to worry about English law but consideration also has to be given to European legislation.

Here are my top tips in relation to trading on the internet:

Have terms and conditions in place
Anyone who trades on the internet should have comprehensive terms and conditions in place to deal with access to and use of its site. Effective terms and conditions can, for example, help prevent unauthorised reproduction of materials from the site, unauthorised linking to the site and may limit liability to visitors to the site.

Terms and conditions must be incorporated
You should ensure that those who use your website or buy products from you are bound by your website’s terms and conditions. Ideally you should ask each user, and certainly those who purchase goods/services from your website, to accept your terms and conditions. This can be done by asking users to click on an ‘I accept’ button. You should also ensure that your terms and conditions and any other policies are displayed above the fold and appear on each webpage.

Get to know your customers
If individuals access your website from outside the United Kingdom foreign law may govern the terms of any contracts which are formed over the internet. You should be aware that attempting to exclude foreign laws cannot be guaranteed to be effective in all circumstances.

If you are dealing with consumers you should ensure that your website complies with consumer legislation. The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 provide amongst other things that:

  • the consumer must be given clear information about the goods or services offered;
  • after making the purchase the consumer must be sent confirmation; and
  • the consumer must have a cooling-off period of seven working days.

There are also specific regulations which deal with distance marketing of financial services to customers.

Implied terms and mandatory statutory provisions
Goods which are sold online are as much protected by English legislation as any others. The Sale of Goods Act 1979 will imply conditions into contracts for the sale of goods. For example, conditions that the goods are of ‘satisfactory quality’ and ‘fit for their purpose’. Terms may also be implied into a contract by the courts. For example, the courts may look at previous course of dealing between the parties.

Ensure that your website is accessible
Your website should be accessible for disabled users and you should ensure that you make reasonable adjustments to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The ability to enlarge font size is one step towards complying with this legislation.

Provide sufficient information on your website
Whether you are involved in e-commerce or not, the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 provides that certain information must be provided on your website.

Comply with Data Protection Act 1998
If you are collecting personal data on your website you should ensure that you comply with the Data Protection Act 1998. Some of these obligations can be addressed by the use of a privacy policy.

Ensure that terms and conditions are reviewed regularly
Changes in industry standard practices and to the law mean that what were once soundly drafted trading terms may not now be as effective. Even if you have existing terms and conditions it is recommended that you have them reviewed to ensure that they do not contain any unenforceable provisions.

Lois Weigand is a corporate solicitor at Mace & Jones.

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