The European market is a multi-billion $ sector which you can not afford to ignore. If you are based within Europe, American or Canada you must be aware of the legal restrictions and requirements or face a hefty fine which could close your business. Don't panic! I am going to make this so simple you can't go wrong.
The aim of this article is to guide you through the very simple steps required to comply with European law when selling goods online.
The law concerning these matters is widely similar throughout Europe but the advice given below relates specifically to English & Welsh law.
And if you think you don't need to comply because you are outside Europe and nobody enforces one country's laws in another country, you are wrong! International co-operation has never been stronger and jurisdiction laws may allow English consumers to sue you in the English courts ? forcing you to incur considerable legal expenses defending a claim in a distant country.
Print this now and keep it by your to-do list so your next website update adapts the key principles outlined.
Let's start with step one.
The aim of the law is to protect consumers and retailers and bolster confidence in online transactions. Put simply the law protects all, not just the purchaser. The relevant body of law is found in one document, the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling Regulations). These Regulations have been altered a little recently but this is not of great concern to this article.
Now we know where to find the law, lets look at what it does in step two.
The law forces the seller, before the sum is debited from the purchaser, to:-
provide the purchaser with the identity and address of the supplier; and
describe the characteristics of the goods to the purchaser; and
show the price of the goods including taxes to the purchaser; and
make shipping costs clear to the purchaser; and
remind the purchaser that he or she has a right to cancel the purchase.
Now this may seem quite a lot to take on board but the chances are you already have most of it covered anyway. Nearly everyone provides the first four details regardless of local legal requirements. It's just good business practice.
It is the last point, reminding the purchaser that he or she has a right to cancel, which is so important. We will look at this in step three
However, the purchaser can notify you that he or she wants to cancel the purchase in a variety of ways ? the most likely being my email, telephone call or fax.
In general the consumer must let you know they wish to cancel within seven working days. These seven working days start one day after the day on which the purchase was made. As long as the purchaser contacts you within this period they are entitled to cancel their purchase.
Even if the goods have arrived with the purchaser the right to cancel still exists. Now the law is not as short-sighted as you may expect. There will clearly be cases where common sense dictates certain items can not be returned or certain orders cancelled. These exceptions to the right to return/refund are discussed in step four.
The most likely exception to be of use to e-commerce sellers is for goods which are made to specification or are clearly personalised.
One of our businesses is selling silver jewellery and if a customer orders an item which is engraved with his or her name then it would be useless if returned as we could not sell it on.
Items which by their nature can not be returned are also exempt. We make it clear in our shipping & returns panel for both of our businesses that we can not accept returns for body jewellery or earrings with Purdice Jewellery and bath products for Purdice Home.
Another exception vital for internet retailers is where goods are liable to deteriorate rapidly. Fresh food goes rotten very quickly and a right to return may be of little use to the retailer if the food arrives in a rotten condition. One must remember that the seven day refund applies to otherwise good items which the purchaser simply no longer wants. This exception is therefore vital for businesses to operate profitably.
Music CDs, videos or DVDs which have been opened also can not be returned ? this time for patently obvious reasons.
So what happens if goods are returned then? Let's look at the final step, step five.
So the purchaser wants to return the goods and there are no exceptions which restrict them being returned? The law, the prospect of future business and the desire to create a reputation for excellent service all compel you to make the refund as effortless as possible.
The first step as the e commerce retailer is to get the goods back. The law ensures that the purchaser has to finance the safe return of the goods. We strongly suggest you make this clear from the start in your shipping & returns panels ? we do for both our information panels for our silver jewellery and home related businesses.
Furthermore, the goods must have been looked-after with a reasonable level of care and returned with care. If they are poorly packaged and damaged in transit or lost in transit you probably do not have to refund the purchaser. We always recommend items are fully insured when returned.
Assuming you receive the returned goods in a fit condition the final step is the refund.
The law requires you to refund the purchaser as soon as possible and no longer than 30 days after the notice of cancellation. Remember this is 30 days and not 30 working days.
You may, as the retailer, deduct the initial postage costs from the total returned.
I know this can be quite hard to follow but I have broken it down into simple steps. In reality the law enforces the fairest position for everyone. It protects purchasers by allowing them to get a refund if they ask shortly after purchase. It protects retailers by providing exceptions from making a refund where items are not looked after, have gone-off or would be unsuitable for sale if returned.
It is vital to note that disputes may still arise where goods are faulty or where the seven day notice is given outside of the time limit by the purchaser. If this is the case legal action may follow so do not always think that as the retailer the seven day period protects you.
Either way only use this article as a guide. Always consult a lawyer before making changes to legal aspects of your website such as your terms and conditions and shipping and returns. As a guide you may view the terms and conditions for Purdice Home and for Purdice Jewellery. If you wish to replicate any part of them please contact me first.
Ashley Shameli, the author of this article, is a director of Purdice Silver Jewellery and Purdice Home. He can be contacted through either of the Purdice websites.