E-Commerce and the Law...
The E-commerce Regulations came into force in August 2002. They implement the European E-Commerce Directive into UK law and one of their main aims is to ensure that electronic contracts are legally binding and enforceable throughout Europe.
The Regulations apply to businesses that:
Sell goods or services to businesses or consumers on the Internet, or by email or SMS (text messages)
Advertise on the Internet, or by email or SMS
Convey or store electronic content for customers, or provide access to a communications network
They do not cover direct marketing by phone or fax.
The E-commerce Regulations identify specific information about your business that you must provide to recipients of online services, and set down guidelines regarding advertising and promotions.
If you form a contract online by electronic means, your customer should be able to print and store a copy of the terms and conditions.
If you intend to advertise on the Internet, or by email or SMS, the Regulations stipulate that "commercial communications" must be clearly recognisable as such. They must clearly identify the person on whose behalf the marketing communication is sent, together with any promotional offer.
The Regulations also cover "unsolicited commercial communications," commonly referred to as spam. They require that these communications are identifiable from the subject line of the email, without the need to read the rest of the message. SMS messages are not covered for these purposes.
Tips for complying with the E-commerce Regulations
To comply with the general information requirements of the E-commerce Regulations 2002 you must give recipients of your online services:
Your business' name, geographic address and other contact details including your email address
Details of any publicly available register in which you are entered, together with your registration number or equivalent
The particulars of the supervisory body if the service is subject to an authorisation scheme
details of any professional body with which you are registered
Your VAT registration number
If your website refers to prices, these must be clear and indicate whether they include tax and delivery costs.
You must also ensure your website complies with part of the Companies Act 2006. From 1 January 2007 all companies in the UK must clearly state the company registration number, place of registration, registered office address and, if the company is being wound up, that fact, on all of their websites. A common place to put this information is in the "About us" or "Legal info" page of the site - it does not have to appear on every page. This rule also applies to any electronic communications sent out by your company, such as emails.
How to Comply when Contracting Online
If your business forms contracts online you must provide your customers with information about:
All technical steps required to conclude the contract, eg "click this box"
Whether the concluded contract will be filed by you and whether it will be accessible
The languages offered for the conclusion of the contract
Any relevant codes of conduct to which you subscribe, and information on how these can be consulted electronically
You must make sure that your website allows customers to go back and correct any mistakes made in their order before the order is placed.
Once a customer has placed an order electronically, you must acknowledge receipt without undue delay.