A sweep by the Office of Fair Trading of 156 websites checking their compliance with distance sales regulations and other ecommerce laws led to 62 of the sites receiving letters from the consumer watchdog. What were the sites getting wrong? Hannah Willson reports.
Who: OFT and over 50 UK websites
When: September 2012
Law stated as at: 5 November 2012
The Office of Fair Trading (“OFT”) has written to over 50 of the top UK retailers after it found their websites were not compliant with the Distance Selling Regulations (“DSRs”) and E-Commerce Regulations.
• unreasonable restrictions on the ability to cancel – such as the requirement to return the purchased items in their original packaging or condition and therefore not allowing the consumer the ability to reasonably inspect the purchased item;
• only providing a web form without an email contact address (a breach of the E-Commerce Regulations);
• unexpected charges added at the checkout such as card charges, booking fees and luggage fees – particularly travel industry sites; and
• not refunding the full price of the purchased goods (including outward delivery) in the event or order cancellation.
Why this matters:
It is the run up to Christmas and thousands more consumers will be turning to the online retail space for their Christmas purchases – it is therefore very timely that the OFT has addressed this issue in advance of the Christmas shopping surge. Some reports are that the offending websites must be compliant by Christmas.
Failure to comply with the DSRs could give rise to court action and fines (and in extreme scenarios prison), as well as the reputational danger of unhappy consumers, although the OFT has appeared to be keen to resolve any non-compliance without the need to take court action.
If you are a retailer that falls within the distance selling and e-commerce regulations this maybe a timely reminder to conduct an audit of your website to ensure that it is not falling foul of the common issues that the OFT has picked up on. With the extended remit of the CAP Code as well as full enforcement of the law requiring consent for “cookies”, many online retailers should be conducting a full review and audit of their websites and they should now be sure to add compliance with the distance selling regulations to the audit checklist.
To assist the online retailer with compliance with the DSRs the OFT has set up ‘Distance Selling Hub‘ which includes tips to resolve key issues as well as a simple questionnaire to identify if you are caught by the regulations in the first place.
The DSRs deal with all types of distance selling, and not just through the internet, it is therefore important to keep in mind that any distance selling by phone, mail-order, email, interactive TV or text are all captured in the regulations and must be compliant.