It is of crucial importance for any business that uses the online space to market its services and/or products to understand E-commerce and the regulations and requirements that enforce it.
The regulations for E-commerce came into force in August 2002 which enact and implement the European E-commerce directive into UK law. This directive ensures that electronic contracts become legally binding documents that are enforceable throughout Europe. Online service providers are subject to the laws of their country of origin and therefore must be compliant with national law.
MARKETING AND ADVERTISING COMPLIANCE
If you advertise, or sell goods and services to consumers or businesses via the internet, email or even SMS text messages, these E-commerce regulations apply to your business. It does cover businesses that market via fax and phone.
Your business will have specific information identified that must be communicated to the recipients of your online services. You will have guidelines set down for you regarding your promotions and advertising. If your business intends to use the internet for advertising there will be stipulations on complying with commercial communication regulations. Therefore you must identify the company/person/business and the promotion/offer in your marketing very clearly. Even spam mail communications are covered under the E-commerce regulations, which mean all spam mail must be identifiable from the subject line of the email.
Clear and concise.
GENERAL INFORMATION REQUIREMENTS
The general information requirements stipulate that you must state the following specifics to the recipients of your communications in order to comply;
- Company name
- Contact details (phone, fax, email etc.)
- Geographic location
- Company registration (including registered office address)
- VAT registration number or equivalent
- Prices must be clear and indicate whether or not they include tax/delivery costs
Much of this information is often detailed on the ‘About us’ section on a company’s website.
For businesses that contract online there are general requirements of information that you must provide customers/clients with;
- Language translations of the contract/form
- ‘Tick the boxes, fill in the fields.’ In other words, provide all the essential steps required to complete the contract/form from personal info to payment details.
- Whether or not the form will be accessible again once completed
- Codes of conduct and how these can be found and read electronically
- The option to go back and correct any mistakes on the contract/form
- Acknowledge receipt of transaction to customer without deferral
If you, as an individual, business or service provider, break or breach the terms of E-commerce regulations, you may face a claim for damages. You can even be subject to a ‘Stop Now’ order which allows the Office of Fair Trading plus others to appeal to the courts for an enforcement order. If you fail to comply with an enforcement order, you will be found in contempt of court. This can be punishable by hefty fines or even prison sentences.
These E-commerce regulations limit the liability of intermediary sources such as ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) who can often transmit and store unlawful content via third parties, unknowingly or unwittingly. However, there are no obligations or mandatory laws imposed on ISP’s that they are required to follow when it comes to monitoring the information they transmit.
All you need be sure of is that non-compliance with the regulations, or an infringement of the terms and procedures your business is required to follow, could have serious implications. Depending on the specific nature of the non-compliance or the breach, end users may take action in any number of ways. The least severe being that they simply cancel their order and terminate their custom with your business, or in worst case scenarios seek a court order against you and start legal proceedings to sue you for damages for breach of statutory duty.
You must comply with the obligations stated under the E-commerce Regulations.
If you wish to seek out further clarification on the above or any changes to the law, please contact a legal advisor. Little Big Voice or Paul Keene cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions in the above document.