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● Guarantees: The same goes for consumer guarantees and warranties. In addition to your customer’s statutory right to a refund if a product is faulty, you might, for example, offer to provide repairs if it breaks down within a specified period. You are bound by the terms of the warranty you have offered, even though it goes further than your legal obligations.

The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 also require that guarantees are written in plain English and made available for consumers to view pre-contract, and state that the guarantee doesn’t affect consumers’ statutory rights.

● Pricing: This may seem obvious but prices must be made available to consumers before they make a purchase, and, under the Price Marking Order 2004, prices must be unambigu- ous, easily identifiable and clearly legible. However, if you accidentally mislabel a product, you can still ask a consumer for the correct price when they come to buy it. The advertised price is an ‘invitation to treat’ only – it isn’t binding.

Via your website or mail order

If you take orders by phone, online, by mail order or fax, you must comply with the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. Consumers making purchases at a distance are at a disadvan- tage, because they can’t see the products they’re buying. The Regulations give them extra rights to those they have when buying in shop premises. Under the Regulations, you need to

make certain pre-contractual information available, for example on a webpage or order form:

● Your business contact details and regis- tered trading address (if a company), as well as the place of registration and registration number.

● Appropriate descriptions of the goods you’re selling.

● Details about payment and delivery arrangements.

● Consumers’ cancellation rights. ● Clear details about prices and VAT.

Consumers have an automatic seven-day cooling-off period under the Regulations with some exemptions, but as with in-store purchases, this can be extended voluntarily

by a retailer. It’s also worth knowing that if you fail to tell the consumer about their cancellation rights, their cooling-off period extends to three months and seven days after delivery. Online orders are also subject to

the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. If you allow consumers to make online purchases, you must provide clear information about the technical steps to follow to conclude the contract, and how the consumer can identify any input errors before confirming their order.

Doorstep selling

If your business involves ‘doorstep selling’ – taking catalogue orders door-to-door, for example – slightly different rules apply in order to protect consumers from being pressurised into making a purchase. When you sell someone something in

their own home you must comply with the pre-contractual information requirements of the Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumer’s Home or Place of Work Regulations 2008. The Regulations apply to sales worth

more than £35 made during both solicited and unsolicited visits. In these circum- stances consumers are entitled to a seven-day cooling-off period during which they can cancel the contract, and you must inform them of this in writing separately or in the terms of a written contract before you finalise the sale.

The Consumer Rights Directive

The Government is currently deciding how to roll out the requirements of a new piece of EU legislation, the Consumer Rights Directive. The Directive will affect the main regulations outlined above,

If you publish a returns policy that goes beyond what is required by law, you are still legally bound to honour it

Better Business No 189

Consumer Contracts DOs and DON’Ts

DO: ✓

✓ ✓

Make sure you know what rights your customers have under consumer legislation.

Honour any additional returns policies or guarantees you offer.

Make sure your policies are clearly displayed for customers to see.

DON’T: ✗

✗ ✗

Forget to tell a consumer about their cancellation rights when taking orders online, by phone or via mail order.

Put unfair pressure on consumers when selling door-to-door.

Forget to have all your contracts, terms and conditions checked by a solicitor.

although the requirements don’t need to be introduced in the UK until the end of 2013. One of the biggest potential changes is the introduction of similar requirements to those currently applying to distance selling to on-premises transactions.❖

Useful resources

● The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Sale of Goods Act resource page: business-advice/treating-customers- fairly/sogahome

● The Seven Day Cooling Off Period: A guide to the require- ments of the Doorstep Selling Regulations – a free DVD for traders, available from the Department for Business (BIS): Publications/ConsumerIssues/ BuyingandSelling.aspx.


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