Trading online: Top 10 tips for legal compliance

Posted on 27 Jun 2012 by The Manufacturer

Rebecca Kelly is an Associate at hlw Keeble Hawson LLP, and specialises in commercial, IT and IP law, as well as advising clients on the considerations and implications of trading online. Here she provides her top ten legal tips.

1.            Getting Started

If you are engaging someone to develop your website, document, in a legally binding contract with the web designer, your requirements and specification for your website. Ensure the website is owned by you.

2.            Running and Maintaining the website

Lost business due to downtime or slow operation of a website can be costly.  Engage a supplier to run and maintain your website.  Specify fault response and fix times in a contract with the supplier.  Also include a clause requiring an unsatisfactory supplier to assist with the transition of services to a new supplier.

3.            Contracts with Customers

For goods delivered outside the UK, terms and conditions should specify which countries you are prepared to do business in and the legal requirements applicable to the goods or services you are supplying. Terms and conditions must be brought to the customer’s attention before the contract is concluded, and the customer must confirm they accept.

4.            Acknowledging and Accepting an Order

To comply with legal requirements, an email should be sent to the customer acknowledging (but not ACCEPTING) their order. When details of the order have been checked and the order is ready for despatch, a follow up email should be sent ACCEPTING the order. To comply with Distance Selling Regulations, this email should contain a PDF of your terms and conditions, or the text of them so the customer can retain a copy of them.  Alternatively you can advise customers to print a copy when they place their order and give them an opportunity to do this before they accept your terms and conditions.

5.            Cancellation of an Order

Under the Distance Selling Regulations a customer has a seven day cooling off period (from the day after the goods are received) to cancel the contract.  If the email containing terms and conditions is sent AFTER delivery of the goods, the customer can cancel up to 7 days following the day after the email was received. The exceptions to this rule relate to items such as bespoke goods or goods with a short shelf life.  The terms and conditions should specify that the customer must return the goods if they cancel the contract.  Provided this is done, and if the customer fails to return the goods, the cost of the goods can be charged even if you have already given the customer a refund.

6.            Delivery of Goods

The Distance Selling Regulations require the seller to perform the contract within 30 days of the customer placing their order.  Unless agreed otherwise with the customer, a contract not completed in this time will be deemed invalid. In such a case, you must notify the customer and reimburse any sums they have paid. If you are contracting with another business, then unless you agree a specific delivery time, you must deliver the goods in a reasonable time.  If you wish to charge consumers for delivery, you must notify them of costs before the contract is concluded.  If not, the customer’s cooling off period is extended.

7.            Refunds and Returns

If goods you supply are defective you must give a full refund including any delivery costs and any costs the customer incurs in returning the goods.

If a customer cancels within the cooling off period, your terms and conditions must state they are liable to pay the costs for returning the goods.  If not, you will be responsible for the customer’s cost of returning the goods.

8.            Collecting and Using Customer Information

Customers have a right to know what data you hold about them and how that data is stored and used. A Privacy Policy can provide this information as well as details of how an individual can access data you hold about them and how to inform you if they do not want their data to be used or stored.

Using customers’ data to market goods and services to them by email needs caution, as the law in this area is restrictive.  You cannot send marketing emails to consumers without their consent unless you obtained the consumer’s details in the course of a sale or negotiation, marketing emails relate to similar goods/services, the identity of the sender is not concealed and you give the recipient a way of opting out of future marketing messages in the email.  A Privacy Policy will make this clear. If you hold data about individuals you must comply with the obligations specified in the Data Protection Act in relation to that information. Visit

9.            Cookies

A cookie is a small text file, which collects information so the website can remember, recognise and personalise the website for that user. Your Privacy Policy (a link to which should be displayed prominently on your website home page) should inform users of what cookies are used on the website, their purpose and how a user can stop the cookie being implanted on their website.  Following implementation of the EU Cookie Directive, it is also recommended that a user is notified, from your home page, if cookies are used on your website.

10.          Selling Outside of the UK

Supplying goods outside the UK may incur increased costs e.g. costs for receiving payments from other countries, additional delivery costs, import duties and costs associated with compliance in the product safety and labelling law of other countries. If you only wish to deal with specified countries (or just the UK) you should make this clear on your website.