A recent Office of Fair Trading survey revealed depressing ignorance of crucial new rules which are relevant for all those selling on-line.
Who: The OFT and British Bulldog Ice Cream
When: February/March 2001
While a recent report from the Office of Fair Trading confirmed a miserable level of awareness among website operators of the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 (in force since 31 October 2000) ("CPDSR"), a street trading licence case gave useful insight into their interpretation.
As reported elsewhere in marketinglaw.co.uk, the CPDSR place a raft of requirements on most traders offering products for sale where there will be no face to face contact between buyer and seller. Some information types must be given about products before the sale contract is concluded, others on or before delivery. One of these information types is the cancellation right, which must be unconditional and exercisable within 7 working days running from the day after the day of delivery. The OFT’s report found that 52% of websites carried no easily accessible information about the cancellation right and related refund/exchange policies.
As ever, there are exceptions in the CPDSR. For instance, the main provisions do not apply to "food stuffs, beverages or goods intended for consumption and supplied to the home/work place of the consumer by a regular delivery roundsman". But does this latter phrase cover increasingly popular on-line ordering and selling by supermarkets, who then arrange for orders to be delivered to the purchaser’s door by van? The case of Kempin t/a British Bulldog Ice Cream v Brighton & Hove Council suggests that it does. Here an operator of an ice cream van fleet would not need a street trading licence if its van drivers were "roundsmen".
The Divisional court said a "roundsman" was one who went the round of customers delivering customers’ orders. Ice cream vans did not fit within this interpretation and therefore needed a trading licence. In the context of our on-line supermarket service, however, the supermarket’s delivery van would seem to fit the court’s "roundsman" definition perfectly, so although the British Bulldog case dealt with a different set of rules it may well give comfort where a 7 day right of cancellation would be interesting to say the least!
Why this matters:
As the OFT survey shows, there is still widespread ignorance of the CPDSR. All those selling on-line and off-line B2C without meeting their customers should be immediately running a CPDSR audit. The British Bulldog case, meanwhile, is food for thought, and we suspect it will not be too long before the true meaning of regular "roundsman" comes before the court in a CPDSR context.