Online Terms and conditions – know where you stand

23rd April 2019

Many of us have either bought or sold products online. We are increasingly familiar with making use of the internet to promote our businesses and satisfy our needs. In fact, the processes are now so familiar it is forgivable to overlook the rules and regulations governing online interaction and transactions.

These rules and regulations are the foundations upon which online commercial transactions are built. They are subtly different to the rules and regulations governing traditional commercial transactions carried out in person or over the phone. Although subtle, these differences are important and need to be appropriately dealt with in any terms and conditions covering online transactions. If they are not, then the terms and conditions might be unenforceable.

For example, last week I bought a work shirt online only to realise when I tried it on, that it didn’t fit. Fortunately, I knew that as a consumer I benefited from certain consumer rights under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 and Consumer Rights Act 2015. I had the right to a ‘cooling off’ period in which I could change my mind, return the product and hopefully get all my money back.

I checked the company’s online terms and conditions for confirmation, but found that they were out of date, didn’t deal appropriately with consumer rights and were not even drafted to deal with online transactions. I was not too surprised at this as I am aware many businesses are not fully aware of the many legal issues that need to be considered when trading online.

Trading online in a compliant manner is not as straightforward as many believe and using unfit terms and conditions can be timely and costly. For example, staying with the theme of returners, I am often asked whether there is anything a business can do to protect itself from customers returning products bought online, especially from serial returners.

The answer is yes, but only if you have compliant terms and conditions. If drafted correctly, your online terms and conditions will set out clearly the circumstances and timeframes in which returns may be accepted and refunds given.

If, on the other hand, out of date or non-compliant terms and conditions are used by a trader they may be partly or wholly unenforceable. The business will be leaving itself subject to avoidable risk, additional costs and increased uncertainty. Compliant online terms and conditions should have the opposite effect, giving greater certainty whilst reducing overall costs and risk.

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