The online marketplace has exploded in the past decade with many businesses taking the view that an online selling platform for their goods and services is preferable. Online trading has helped many businesses find new markets, sell new products and in some cases compete with larger businesses.
However, online sales can cause problems. I always advise my clients to get the basics right and make sure they have a good understanding of the legal requirements to trade online.
Your website is your shop window and all your advertising content should comply with UK advertising codes of practice, consumer protection laws, and any product or sector specific laws and regulations. It must also not infringe any third party intellectual property rights.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s independent regulator across all media and enforces regulation in a robust manner. By way of example the ASA ruled that an informal tweet by a TV personality promoting a discount by a hairdressing salon amounted to advertising and should have carried an identifier such as #ad.
Importantly there is mandatory information that you must give to your web based customers. Every website should prominently display links to various documents (ideally on the home page), including the following:
Terms of website use
These should contain provisions for access to, and use of, your website. You may rely on these terms to prevent unauthorised access to your website, disclosure by users to third parties of access security information, unauthorised reproduction of material and unacceptable user behaviour, such as hacking, introducing viruses and uploading illegal or defamatory content.
A policy setting out rules and standards
Visitors to your website must comply with these. Again these rules may be relied on in preventing unauthorised reproduction of material contained on your website and undesirable user behaviour. The terms allow you to remove any offending material and to suspend, or permanently disable, a user’s right to access the site.
From a legal viewpoint, “personal data” includes all information about identifiable individuals. If you collect personal data you will be classified under the Data Protection Act 1998 as a data controller and you must provide your users with fair processing information. This is information about the type of data you collect, and the way in which as well as the purpose for which, you process that data.
Terms and conditions of business
If your site sells goods or services, your web based sales are likely to be transacting electronically. You must therefore make sure you have an up to date and accurate set of terms of sale that protect your business and comply with the law. For example, if your site sells to the public, your terms of sale must comply with the rules on cancellation, return of goods and details of the information to be provided to customers at the point of sale.
With the above in mind, if you do or are considering selling your goods and/or services online, it is vital you have in place the appropriate documentation to protect your business and to avoid breaking the law.