The basis of all consumer law is that the products or services you are selling have to be of a certain standard and consumers are entitled to expect this standard. These basic consumer rights still apply when people are buying online. In addition to these basic rights, online customers also benefit from additional protections under both Irish and European law.
Of particular relevance here are the Distance Selling Regulations and the E-Commerce Regulations. From the perspective of most business owners the main points to consider are the following:
- When do these regulations apply?
- What information must I provide before a contract or agreement is enforceable?
- What confirmation information must I provide?
- What is a cooling off period?
When do these regulations apply?
Distance selling means any situation where you’re not dealing with someone face-to-face but instead you’re taking orders remotely. This can be over the phone, email or via your website.
What information must I provide before a contract or agreement is enforceable?
As the business owner, the legal obligation is on you to ensure your customers get all the required information before any agreement is deemed to be enforceable. This information includes:
- who you are: your business name, identity
- what you’re selling
- price including taxes, delivery costs
- details of the payment and delivery process
- details of the right of cooling off and cancellation where appropriate
- period for which the price is valid
What confirmation information must be provided on or before the time of delivery?
Prior to concluding the order or contract, you must provide customers with certain additional information including:
- written confirmation of the order
- written information on how to cancel the order
- business address to which they can forward complaints
- details of any guarantees
What is a Cooling Off Period?
The distance selling regulations give consumers what’s known as a “cooling off” period. This is something that consumers do not automatically get after they have bought goods or services in a physical shop, but it is a major requirement in online sales. During this period the consumer can cancel the order without giving you any reason whatsoever. The cooling off period starts on the day your goods are delivered to their home, or on the day when the customer makes the contract for a service.
As a web trader, you are legally required to give consumers a cooling off period of at least seven working days. The period can be longer than this if you wish, but it must not be shorter. This cooling off period does not apply to all goods and services and exemptions include where you are supplying perishable goods or accommodation in a hotel or guesthouse for specific dates. It’s important to also note that this cooling off period can be extended to three months if you do not provide the customer with all the relevant information about their contract within 30 days of their order.
As I said initially, it’s your business and it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re playing by the rules. Customers do not have to seek this information from you – it’s up to you to provide it. In today’s market consumers are more savvy then ever when it comes to avoiding a contract so if you’re selling online it only makes sense to put proper information and systems in place to protect your business.
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Taylor Solicitors is a Cork-based legal firm led by Eleanora Taylor offering specialist advice in business and property law.