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Online sales on the increase: is your business ready?

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), December 2013 saw a record amount of online shopping, with around a fifth of non-food items bought through the web and almost a 20% growth in the number of internet purchases compared to a year earlier. Helen Dickinson, the BRC director general noted that “This Christmas we’ve seen innovative retailers using click and collect and other approaches to make a virtue of both their website and their physical shops. And that’s something we see growing in importance.” The increasing significance of online business in driving the economy forward and out of the recession is something which many companies – particularly start-ups and SMEs – can use to their advantage. However, it’s vital to ensure that your legal processes are optimised for handling online business, as there are various different aspects which must be considered.

Making sure you have the correct documents for online marketing

Even if you are simply marketing your products using a website or email, there are certain rules which need to be followed. Data protection and privacy laws must be abided by at all times. You must ensure that you keep any personal information which you collect on visitors to your website safe and secure and allow people to easily opt-out of any email lists. It’s often a good idea to put in place specific policies – such as a privacy policy – so that your customers know where they stand and to make sure you have a set procedure which is followed, as any lapses can be extremely punitive. For example, failure to comply with the Cookie Law which governs the use of cookies stored on your website visitors’ browsers, can lead to fines of up to £500,000.

Differences between selling online and traditional business

Although the success or failure of a company in the online world depends on similar techniques to those found in “offline” business, there are different requirements and regulations. Whether a business is selling or only advertising online, it must follow the Electronic Commerce Regulations which requires it to provide certain details on its website such as a registered address and any company registration number. Meanwhile the Distance Selling Regulations oblige those selling goods or services online to provide further information, such as payment and delivery arrangements, and to abide by “cooling off” requirements which enable a customer to cancel a contract within a certain amount of time. Ensuring that you have an up-to-date set of website terms and conditions can help to avoid many of the pitfalls of selling online. Also, always make sure that you are using relevant online sales terms and conditions – eg. T&Cs for the sale of goods to consumers via a website or T&Cs for the supply of services to consumers via a website.

Rocket Lawyer UK offers a range of up-to-date documents relating to websites and e-commerce which can help you with running an online business. For more information, take a look at our hub for doing business online which contains various useful Quick Guides.

Pieta Das Gupta

Pieta has over ten years’ experience as a company commercial solicitor working in law firms and for businesses.As the Head of Legal for Rocket Lawyer UK, Pieta is in charge of legal content and work with the product development team to create the documents and guidance available on Rocket Lawyer.