Laws applying to online sales
There are two distinct types of legislation that affect online retailers.
Firstly, traditional laws to protect buyers that apply to online retailers as much as they do to traditional ones. Secondly, there are regulations designed specifically to deal with problems and issues facing retailers online.
Traditional laws to protect buyers
These protect buyers (both commercial and consumers) whether they are buying the goods over the counter of a shop or over the internet. For instance:
- The Sale of Goods Act gives certain rights to commercial buyers, for example by providing that goods sold must be of satisfactory quality and must be as described by the seller.
- The Unfair Contract Terms Act protects commercial buyers where sellers try to exclude or limit their liability for breaching the sale of goods contract, e.g. by selling goods not of satisfactory quality. Sellers can only do this in sales to commercial buyers where it is reasonable in the circumstances.
- The Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives similar rights to consumers, e.g. that the goods sold must be of satisfactory quality and match their description. However, it completely prevents sellers from excluding or limiting such liability in consumer sales. Therefore, consumers have a higher level of protection than commercial buyers. This Act also replaces the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations and protects consumers from unfair terms in the sales agreement.
- The Consumer Credit Act protects consumers' rights when they enter into an agreement for someone to provide them with loans or credit facilities, including circumstances where they buy goods or services using a credit card.
- The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 protect consumers from unfair trading practices and misleading advertising.
There are also many other pieces of legislation, many of which will apply to different types of contracts and products.
Regulations governing online sales
These regulations are new and were brought into force largely to protect buyer's rights when they buy products either over the Internet or by telephone. They largely derive from EU Directives, and include the E-commerce Regulations, the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations and the Electronic Signatures Regulations. The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015, as amended by the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Amendment) Regulations 2015 provide for resolution of disputes by Alternative Dispute Resolution. Although the traditional consumer regulations are important for all sales processes, the next sections focus on certain of the online regulations and how they affect the various stages of the online sales process.