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Selling to overseas buyers via your website – five things you need to know

28th June 2023

In 2017 we attended an award ceremony for small and medium sized businesses. In his acceptance speech, one of the winning CEOs urged his fellow businesspeople to get out there and sell globally. “If you have a website, you can sell to any country,” he boomed.

He was right, of course, but only up to a point.  If you are marketing via your website to foreign buyers, you need to amend your website and in some cases your business practice, to avoid incurring some quite serious risks. It’s the job of lawyers to help companies engage in digital marketing while minimizing this risk, so we’ve outlined some of the hidden dangers, below.

  1. Online terms and conditions

Typically, digital marketing comes with Ts and Cs that the seller expects the buyer to sign up to.  In many cases though these are difficult to enforce since a consumer has no opportunity to negotiate them and courts tend to favour consumers.  Make sure those Ts and Cs are communicated properly therefore and take into account the quirks of the target market.

  1. General regulatory

Be sure to understand the basic regulatory environment of the country into which you are selling.  For example, books cannot be sold without a special licence in some countries, and in others, financial products or advice cannot be freely provided unless under the aegis of an approved financial institution or advisor.

  1. Language

As a general rule it is sensible to publish your online content in the language of the target country.  If you leave it in English, you run the risk that any dispute will be decided in favour of a buyer whose native language is not English.  More importantly, in some countries it is mandatory to include certain content in the local language, and not doing so could expose you to blacklisting, fines or other penalties.

  1. Product liability

Within the EU and to a certain extent the UK, product content is standardized.  For example, foodstuffs of a certain type must contain certain minimum or maximum levels of ingredients.  But in the US, Japan, Latin America or other markets outside the EU, these levels may be different.  For some ingredients the level may be lower, while for others it may be higher.  This rationale applies to a very large number of products so before you start marketing your products outside the UK make sure the products can be sold lawfully in the target market.

  1. Corporate standing

To sell directly into some countries it may be necessary to either establish a subsidiary or an individual representative there, or to contract with a distributor or agent in that country.

The above are just a few of the many issues facing digital sellers.  There are many others, and of course any seller will need to consider the physical aspects of selling overseas too, such as labelling, packaging, delivery terms, payment mechanisms and more.

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