16th Sept 2013
The BBC website reported that Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS) states that one in four websites are not offering consumers the correct options when trading online, ultimately breaching their consumer rights. Amongst these infringements include 43% of websites fail to inform consumers of their right to cancel and more than 50% of sites, fail to provide a full refund when required.
SCOTSS chairman Colin Baxter said: “We are concerned about the high levels of non-compliance. It’s a legal requirement to protect online buyers, to ensure fairness and a level playing field for reputable retailers, and to ensure the smooth working of the internet marketplace. “However, with the continuing expansion of e-commerce in the UK, new entrants are joining the market every day, many of them small micro-businesses with little experience of consumer law.”
So, businesses that enter the online marketplace with no knowledge of consumer rights, will only attract unwanted attention from institutions like the standards agency. This could result in a fine for the online business and bad press for online retailing which is a key part of our economic recovery.
With the public more savvy about their rights as a consumer, it’s up to the online business to ensure their website and online offering is reputable. This includes being aware of the responsibilities as an online trader and ensuring the correct procedures are in place before trading online.
David Reilly from Create Ts and Cs, director who draft and provide bespoke terms and conditions to online businesses commented “it’s a good idea to keep trading standards off your back; such organisations have the power to fine and tarnish the reputation of the business, leading to a loss of online sales. It’s a risk for a business not to follow the law and not to communicate the correct legal rights to their online customers. So why take that chance? A company that is serious about customer service and building a sustainable online business will take the right steps to ensure their customers are protected”.
Online inspection of Websites
SCOTSS will in the future conduct random online inspections of websites, this will include SCOTSS officers carrying out “test purchases” to check how a consumer would be treated when they purchase from the site. This test will also include cancelling the service within the statutory seven-day period to test whether the website operators are following through on distancing trading obligations, as per the law.
There is a trust that exists between the general public and the online trading community, when an online purchase is made, online transactions lack the traditional personable retail face to face contact that can reassure a potential customer and establish the credibility of the company. In the virtual world, all that’s visible is the website, social media communications and the correct terms and conditions outlining the customer’s rights meaning this formal communication is not only a legal requirement but demonstrates the correct customer service approach to protecting your potential customers.