Buying Products and Services Online
In recent years, the internet has transformed the way people shop, buying products and services online. Although countless transactions are carried out online every day, problems do arise, whether this is a security issue with your personal information or not receiving the items that you ordered.
If you buy from a reputable online store, you can have more rights than if you were to buy from an actual store.
One of the main concerns when buying things over the internet is security. Many people are concerned whether their details are safe or what happens if there is a data breach and their information is accessed.
When online payment systems are managed properly, your sensitive credit and debit card information and your personal details are completely secure. A good website will ensure that payment information is encrypted. This means that it cannot be intercepted by any other third party other than your bank.
Keeping Your Information Secure
When shopping online, there are various safety measures that you can take as a consumer to keep your information secure:
- Ensure that the web browser that you are using is the latest version and it is updated regularly
- Check that the website you are buying from is completely secure. You can determine whether a website is secure by checking that the web address begins with https and displays a padlock in the corner.
- Ensure that you are dealing with a reputable company before making a purchase.
- Research them online, read customer reviews (be careful because some reviews can be false) and ensure that the company has a physical address and landline telephone number.
- You can also check whether they are registered on Companies House if they are a limited company or check their VAT registration.
- Only enter your personal details or sensitive credit card information on a site that you completely trust.
- If you are entering into a credit agreement, make sure that you read the terms and conditions very carefully
- Once your order has been made, print out your receipt and keep a record of your order number along with any terms and conditions of the sale
- Understand the nature of any contract that you are entering into
- Check your statements regularly and carefully to identify any unknown transactions
- If you regularly shop online, it would be wise to use a separate card and account for your purchases
When you buy anything online there are two pieces of legislation that apply. The first is the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 which covers all products and services. The second is the Financial Services (Distance Marketing) Regulations 2004 which is only applicable to financial services.
You can use the consumer protection regulations whether you make a purchase online or in a store. Under this umbrella legislation, there are various other Acts such as the Sale of Goods which assign consumers certain rights about the standard of the products that you receive and what your rights are if the goods fail to meet certain quality standards.
As another example, the Consumer Credit Act was put in place to protect consumers who enter into financial agreements such as a loan when they buy goods and services.
In terms of online regulations, these are relatively new and include the Distance Selling Regulations, E-Commerce Regulations and Electronic Signatures Regulations.
When a business offers products and/or services online, they must provide consumers with certain pieces of information. This information will vary depending on the legislation.
Distance Selling Regulations
Information about products and services must be provided in a clear, concise and easy to understand format. It can be displayed on a web page but only if consumers are made aware of this information and it should include:
- Details about the supplier
- A clear and unambiguous description of the products and services
- Clear pricing
- Details about delivery and the payment options available to the consumer
- What the terms and conditions are for cancellation in line with the Distance Selling Regulations
The terms and conditions attached to any purchase should outline certain pieces of information such as:
- The name and address of who is selling the product
- The nature of the product or service that the consumer will receive and what it will cost including associated fees and delivery charges where applicable
- Terms and conditions are an essential part of a website and they will vary depending on the products or services that you sell. They should be prepared by a qualified legal professional because any weaknesses in terms and conditions can leave the business open to unnecessary problems.
The E-Commerce regulations require any website operating on a commercial basis to supply various pieces of information to consumers on the website. This will include:
- The full name of the company and whether they are trading under another name
- The address of the company or the registered address if this is different
- Whether they are a member of any associations or trade bodies
- Their VAT Registration number if they are VAT registered
This information is required whether the company sells products and services online or not. In addition, prices must be clear and not misleading, and websites should clearly state whether the price shown includes or excludes tax or delivery.
Under the E-Commerce regulations contracts are sometimes entered into online. Where a consumer enters into a contract, consumers must be informed:
- What is involved with completing the contract online
- How the contract will be stored and whether it will be accessible
- Whether the consumer will be able to identify and ask for errors to be corrected
A website should also provide details on any codes of conduct or professional standards that the business is bound by and all of this information should be provided to the consumer before they enter into the contract.
Buying products and services online can be successful provided that you exercise due diligence and take the necessary steps to ensure that you are dealing with a reputable company and the site you are using to make the purchase is completely secure.
About the Author
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers team and posted by Lloyd Barrett, Admin & Customer Services Manager for online advice service Expert Answers. Expert Answers provides legal advice to users in the UK who post a question on their secure platform.