Knowledge is freedom

Distance selling

Distance selling and online trading (UK)

The basics of distance selling and online trading

When selling online or by some other distance-selling method, you must comply with two key sets of regulations.

The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations cover businesses that sell to consumers by mail order, phone, fax, over the Internet or on digital TV.

Generally these regulations require you to:

  • provide consumers with specified information before they order
  • provide consumers with specified written information in a durable medium prior to the conclusion of a contract
  • send consumers an order confirmation – for services this should be provided in good time, and before the services finish
  • give consumers the chance to cancel the contract

The Electronic Commerce Regulations place similar requirements on businesses that sell or advertise products or services to businesses using the Internet, email, interactive digital television or mobile-phone SMS text messages.

Whether you sell to businesses or consumers online, the regulations also require you to:

  • clearly identify commercial communications as such
  • outline the steps that need to be taken for a contract to be concluded

Find information on electronic commerce regulations on the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) website.

Other laws you must comply with

Remember you must still comply with a range of other laws on the supply of goods and services. In particular you must ensure:

goods are fit for their purpose and of satisfactory quality under the Sale of Goods Act – see our guide on the Sale of Goods Act

products are exactly as you describe them under the Trade Descriptions Act – see our guide on fair trading, trade descriptions and Trading Standards

services are carried out with reasonable skill, in a reasonable time and at a reasonable price – see our guide on the Sale of Goods Act

You must also comply with privacy and data-protection law when contacting customers or processing any personal information about your customers. See our guide to privacy and data protection in marketing

Selling online or at a distance

If you sell to consumers online, or sell at a distance by another method such as digital TV, mail order, phone or fax, then the Distance Selling Regulations may apply to you.

In general you are required to:

give potential customers certain information in advance, such as your name and address, the goods you are selling or the services you are providing, the price (including all taxes), delivery cost, delivery arrangements, and customers’ right to cancel

send customers an order confirmation giving information such as your postal address and cancellation arrangements

allow customers a seven working-day cooling-off period during which they can cancel their contract with you.

There are some exceptions to the regulations such as: financial services, transport, accommodation, leisure services and food, drink or other goods for everyday consumption delivered by a ‘regular roundsman’ such as a milkman.

The OFT has produced information specifically tailored to the rapidly growing e-commerce sector