If you're a UK retailer involved in distance selling, then you will need to adhere to the Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) Distance Selling Regulations (DSR) that were adopted in June 2014. Overseen by the Office of Fair Trade (OFT), the regulations deal with 'distant contracts' between consumers and retailers. They do not apply to B2B relationships.

The OFT defines a 'distance contract' for a merchant as 'one where there has been no face to face contact between the consumer and representative of your business, or someone acting indirectly on your behalf, such as a showroom or a door to door sales person, up to and including the moment that the contract is concluded.' The law does not apply to a retailer who does not normally conduct business via distance selling but does so as the result of a one-time or occasional consumer request.

Under this law, the supplier must provide consumers with specified information, including:

  • The retailer's name and address.
  • A means of identifying the contract, such as a company reference number.
  • Primary characteristics of the goods or services must be described.
  • All costs, including delivery fees, taxes and price of items, must be provided.
  • Arrangements for payment must be outlined.
  • A statement of the right to cancel or withdraw from the contract, along with an explanation of how to do so.
  • Timeline for which the offer or price is valid and/or minimum length of the contract.
  • Location where goods or services are permanently or recurrently provided.
  • Information concerning guarantees, providing substitute goods and a notice that the merchant is responsible for the cost of returning substitute goods. If this is not made clear before the contract, the customer is not liable for the costs.
  • A notice that the purchaser must ensure the safety of the goods until they are returned (not mandatory but suggested).
  • Information about the customerís right to cancel within 14 days must be highlighted.

It is advised that you get in touch with your customer in writing after an order is placed and before the product or service is delivered, with the following information:

  • Detailed description of their purchased goods.
  • Total cost of the product along with shipping and/or any other special cost (such as gift wrapping).
  • Shipping arrangements.
  • Minimum duration of any contract and arrangements for terminating the contract.
  • How and when they can cancel an order and who will pay shipping charges for returning the product.
  • An address where their complaints can be sent.
  • Any guarantees or after-sales services included with the product.
  • Conditions for terminating the contract.
  • Helpline call charges that are more than calling a 01, 02 or 03 number, or a mobile or free number.

The retailer must provide written notice of above (e-mail is acceptable if it is an Internet transaction) within three months of the contract and the contract must be executed, unless otherwise agreed upon, within 30 days. The consumer has the right to cancel the contract within 14 working days from the date they received the goods for any reason.

If the consumer decides to cancel the contract, the provider must reimburse him within 30 days. The consumer may retain the goods and must take reasonable care of them until the refund is received. Within 21 days of the cancellation notice being given the merchant must request in writing that the buyer return the items. The consumer is required to use reasonable care in returning the goods.

If these regulations are not followed the company may be liable. Neither suppliers nor consumers are permitted to contract outside of these regulations.

This law protects both buyers and sellers. With businesses springing up every day on the net and consumers finding a variety of outlets from which to buy, these regulations have helped standardise practices in the UK, making surprises between consumers and distance sellers less likely.

The full text of these regulations may be downloaded by going to: https://www.gov.uk/online-and-distance-selling-for-businesses.