Legal requirements for wholesalers and retailers

As a rule of thumb, if you treat your customers reasonably and fairly, compliance with the law will largely take care of itself. The exception is if you sell items with restrictions on them e.g. alcohol. That said, it can be helpful to know the key legal requirements for wholesalers and retailers and what they mean in practice.


The key rules for wholesalers

Wholesalers generally deal with other businesses, rather than consumers. As a result, there are very few regulations governing how they interact with their customers. There are, however, several rules concerning how wholesalers interact with the government and industry organizations.


Restricted goods

You will probably need some form of registration and/or licencing if you sell any of the following

  • Alcohol
  • medicinal products and controlled drugs
  • fireworks and explosives
  • firearms and ammunition
  • Pesticides

Tobacco products are not currently subject to special licencing or registration. They are, however, subject to special controls on storage and handling.



If you’re running HGVs (vehicles over 3.5 tonnes) you will need an operator licence. You will also need to ensure that any drivers comply with all relevant safety regulations.


Waste disposal

In general, wholesalers have a lot of responsibility for dealing with waste, especially packaging waste and electrical waste. Check the rules for the products you plan to sell.


The key rules for all retailers

The retailer offers the goods for sale and defines the terms under which they are sold. They are therefore considered to be in control of the transaction. This means that the standard regulations all work on the assumption that consumers need protection from unscrupulous retailers rather than vice versa. Here is a rundown of the main rules for retailers


Sale of Goods Act

  • Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations
  • Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations

Taken together these rules basically say that all goods sold must be as described and fit for their intended purpose. Any sales contracts must be written in clear English and must be fair to the consumer as well as the retailer. All retailers must treat the customer respectfully. They must not be aggressive towards them or try to mislead them.


Specific rules for e-commerce

The Consumer Contracts Regulations address issues created when retailer and customer do not interact directly with each other. These rules mandate that certain items of information be clearly shown on a website. These include:

  • A complete description of the goods/service
  • Clear information on pricing
  • Delivery costs and your returns policy
  • The seller’s contact details (and the cost of any phone number given).
  • Cancellation rights including the right to cancel up to 14 days after purchase

NB: it is a criminal offence not to inform consumers of their cancellation rights. In principle failure to highlight the right to cancel up to 14 days after purchase clearly on the website can result in a prison sentence. In practice, it’s more likely to result in the customer having up to a year to cancel the contract.


Specific rules for sellers of digital products

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 is analogous to the Sale of Goods Act but applied to digital products.

Claire Shaw
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