Posted: Tuesday, 29 November 2011 @ 17:31
There are many misconceptions, often by ‘experts’, on the real legal and practical implications of selling over the web.
Do bear in mind that, if you sell over the web, you are bound by any terms of business just as much as if they are on the back of an order form. Because web sites are often purposefully informal, they often have a button to click, with the words Terms and Condition or similar! As a buyer, that is good news, the terms probably do not apply. If the web order form says something like “sold subject to our terms which you can see if you click here and click here to confirm you agree them…”, that is probably enough to cover the seller.
I have heard many comments such as, “Who cares about the small print, nobody reads it”. This is probably true, but dangerous. Amongst many examples, a clever seller will make sure a buyer has to notify any problem with the item within a short period, or they have no claim for any defect, also avoid consequential loss of profit by the buyer and so on.
Beware the private buyer (often referred to as a “consumer”) rather than a business-to-business (b2b) transaction. Legally b2b is the safest for a seller by a long way! This is often a difficult distinction when buyers are one-person “businesses” But - as against the complex rules which protect a “consumer” you can protect yourself against increasing claims via such things as “no win no fee” by careful terms of business.
By way of example, a small business supplied a few parts for a conveyor system. It broke down, the user sued for their loss of profits - that breakdown was said to be caused by the small business’s parts, they had to pay out many thousands of pounds in respect of which they were not fully insured, -and this could have been avoided by the careful use of legal advice. Practical tips for Internet Retailers
- Make sure there is a record of the part of the site people order from, so that you have an easy record of what has been ‘said’.
- Enable users to print off the terms and conditions on your site (often referred to as the “small print”, but it should actually not be so small or feint that it cannot be read easily)
- If you ask buyers to use a site and pay by card, then make sure the page they put details on is secure.
- Many potential buyers will not send their credit card details by ordinary insecure email or via an insecure web page (or one that is not encrypted).
- Make sure your site has full details of the site owner and how to contact you in full. An email address alone is not much use. For more details on what should be included download a copy of our Website owners: Legal requirements checklist.
- Some sites have digital certificates. You can point this out to users by putting it on your homepage. A digital certificate identifies the site and people can be as sure as they can in the high street who they are dealing with.
- Make your terms of business clear, easily readable, and fair - people will tend not to argue against them then. Remember an argument - even if you’re right - costs time, money and reputation.
- Make sure you keep up to date with the ever-changing regulations in this area - or start to use a lawyer who will do that for you. But make sure they explain it in a practical way - i.e. how will it affect my business.
For more details on what should be included download a copy of our Website owners: Legal requirements checklist
Contact Cousins Business Law for advice on this topic.
Article reviewed November 2011
For free advice on this topic please call us on 0845 003 5639.
Blog by Sue Mann
Sue is an experienced commercial solicitor based in Birmingham from where she helps businesses all over the country advising on, drafting, and reviewing business contracts and commercial agreements. View profile
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