If you are selling online in the UK, you should already be aware of the Distance Selling Regulations – the legislation that covers anything bought via online shopping, mail order, over the telephone or a TV shopping channel. From 13th June 2014 these were superseded by the new Conusmer Contracts Regulations, which implement the Consumer Rights Directive in UK law. As well as applying to items bought online or at a distance, they also include those items bought away from a trader’s premises, e.g. at work or at home, which was covered by the Doorstep Selling Regulations.
So, what’s the difference? Well, there are a number changes that it’s important to take note of:
The customer’s right to cancel their order for goods starts from the moment that they place their order, and only ends 14 days from the day that they receive their goods. This used to be 7 days, starting the day after goods were received. If their order is sent in batches, the 14 days period starts when the final batch arrives.
You now need to provide customers with a standard cancellation form, but they are not actually obliged to use it.
You should provide a refund to the customer within 14 days of you receiving the returned goods or the customer providing proof that they dispatched the goods to you, e.g. a Post Office Proof of Postage receipt. You can make a deduction from the amount refunded if the returned goods have been handled in such a way that devalues them. Remember that customers are allowed to handle goods they receive in the same way as they would while evaluating them in a shop.
You cannot charge for the return of goods that are faulty, that don’t do what they are supposed to, or fail to match the description you provided. As the retailer, you have to refund the basic cost of having the goods returned to you. If the customer opted for ‘enhanced’ delivery, e.g. Express or Overnight, you do not need to refund that full amount – just the basic cost of getting the goods back to you. There are some exceptions to what can be cancelled and refunded: DVDs, CDs or software on which the customer has broken the seal or wrapping, perishable items, personalised and tailor-made items are all exempt.
Some online retailers employ the tactic of charging for items or services that the customer may not necessarily want. This could be by using pre-ticked boxes to add extended guarantees or accessories to the basket in such a way that the customer may be unaware as to what has happened. From now on the customer is entitled to their money back if you do this.
If your telephone number for Customer Services is charged at any more than a basic rate, you’ll need to change that. Phone lines for taking sales can use 0844 numbers and the like that charge a more than the basic rate. However, post-sale enquiries must be directed to a number that charges a basic rate, e.g. those that start 01, 02 or 03.
I’ve just zipped through some of the main changes to the regulations for selling at a distance. The Trading Standards website has more information to help you keep on the right side of the law.