The Public Liability Insurance Blog

Learn from the mistakes of others

Consumer protectionThe best thing you can do as a small business is to learn from your mistakes. However, it is even better is to learn from someone else’s.

If you sell stuff online, some statistics from The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) might be of interest to you. The OFT recently did a sweep of 156 top online retailers’ sites to see if they were compliant with consumer protection law. The results were mostly encouraging, but they found that just under half were breaking some of their distance selling regulations (DSR).

The OFT has subsequently written to 62 of these un-named retailers to encourage them to clean up their act in time for the Christmas period. You can learn from these mistakes and get in there quick to clean up your site if you have any of the following aspects out of order.

Unreasonable cancellation conditions

A third (33%) of the 62 online retailers gave information on how to cancel purchases that the OFT deemed unreasonable. The examples they gave involved requiring a product to be returned in its original packaging and in its original condition. Although this might not seem unreasonable to a retailer, they argue that this could infringe on a consumer’s rights to inspect and asses a product before deciding to return it.

No email contact address

I personally detest web contact forms. I don’t trust them and I’m never sure if there’s someone picking it up at the other end. It appears that the OFT agrees with me as well as listing an email contact address is required as part of its E-Commerce regulations. Almost two thirds (60%) of the sites did not have an email contact address listed.

Unexpected charges

Additional compulsory charges might be unavoidable. It’s not unreasonable to charge your customers for postage, even in this age of Amazon’s aggressively consumer-friendly free postage policy, but you have to warn your customers. Although 60% of the sites did give information on extra charges, 24% of these then went on to add even more charges to the bill that they hadn’t warned customers about. Make sure your clients know exactly what they’re going to be paying before they get to the payment screen. More than anything else, it makes you look untrustworthy not to.

Delivery times

A very small number of websites scanned didn’t give any indication of when items would be delivered. It’s a basic thing to put in place so make sure you haven’t let this one fall through the cracks.

Geographical address

Although it wasn’t very many, another small subset of the sites scanned didn’t offer up a physical address when requesting a payment. This is another thing that is required by the OFT and is another very simple thing you can implement if you’ve forgotten to already. It’s plausible that you may have left this off your website, especially if you’re an online only business.

If reading this has made you realise you’re unsure about the regulations surrounding selling goods and services online, the OFT have a resource in the form of its Distance Selling Hub.

You might do well to spend a few minutes just making sure that your online storefront is in order. Making changes to it now will be a lot easier than it will be in a few week’s time when the Christmas season starts to really get into gear.

YOUR Insurance specialises in public liability insurance for small and medium sized businesses involved in several trades and professions. You can compare quotes for your business online, or call one of our advisors on 0800 107 8949.