In this section
- Do I need to provide the above consumer rights to customers who buy from my business?
- What if buyers buy for both their personal and business usage?
- Do I need to agree to sell to customers based in another European country?
- If I sell my products cross-border in the EU, what are the laws applicable to my contract?
- How can I make sure that my business is fully compliant when selling online?
- Would selling through an online marketplace make me automatically compliant?
- Can I exclude or limit my customers' rights?
- Can I use contract terms to limit my liability?
- Who pays for returns when the consumer cancels?
- Can I deduct money from refunds?
- What if the consumer states that my goods are unsatisfactory?
- What if the goods are damaged in transit?
- What if I want to offer items with an additional guarantee?
- What if the consumer views in person the goods you are selling online?
If an individual buys an item from you in a personal capacity, then they are defined by law to be a consumer. This means that you cannot exclude or limit their consumer rights, which are provided by law. If the customer buys for their business or on behalf of a legal entity, and not a physical person, this customer cannot qualify as a consumer and you may provide different sales conditions.
These types of contracts are known as 'dual purpose contracts'. In order to see whether buyers are entitled to their consumer rights it will be a matter of checking whether the customers use the item more for their business or for personal reasons.
You sell a laptop to a freelance journalist who will use the laptop for writing articles but also for recreational purposes. The CCRs cover this definition by stating that: "'consumer' means an individual acting for purposes which are wholly or mainly outside that individual's trade, business, craft or profession". Since the laptop, in this example, is used primarily for an individual's trade, the journalist's purchase is deemed to be business-related. This definition is also confirmed by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA). Please see section 4.11 for further details on what the consumer is entitled to under the CRA 2015.
If your business does not intend to sell to consumers outside the UK, this should be clear from your terms and conditions of sale. However, if a foreign customer offers to buy your product by collecting it in the same way as the goods that are available to UK consumers, then under the recent law covering 'geo-blocking', you need to make the goods available to them in the same way they are for a UK consumer.
This is just an example of one of the practices which are dealt with by the EU Geo-blocking Regulation (EU) 2018/302. This law prohibits discrimination based on customers' nationality, place of residence or place of establishment, including unjustified geo-blocking, in certain cross-border transactions. This means that businesses have to treat European consumers in the same situation equally, regardless of where they live.
Please see the 'Geo-blocking' section of 'Consumer contracts: distance sales' guide elsewhere on this website.
Under EU law, if you offer your goods to buyers outside the UK, but within the EU, it is usually the law of the country in which the consumer lives that applies to your contract, as you cannot deprive your foreign consumers of the protection granted by the mandatory provisions of their own country of residence.
In practice, EU legislation provides a wide range of highly harmonised laws which make trading across borders much easier. This means most consumer law and, in particular, the information and cancellation rules, are consistent throughout the EU.
In case of disputes with a consumer based in another EU country, the competent court to decide over your dispute under EU law will be the one of the country where the consumer habitually lives. So, you cannot sue the consumer before a court different from this, even if this was stipulated at the conclusion of the contract. Conversely, you can be sued in the country where the consumer resides.
If you sell online a dress to a German consumer, you cannot establish in your terms and conditions that in case of dispute the only competent court to resolve the dispute is the court in the UK. This would mean depriving the consumer of their statutory rights, hence a potential unfair term. Please see further in this guidance or the 'Unfair contract terms' guide on this website.
Court is always a last resort and should be sought only if no resolution can be found through your own complaint-handling policy, the online marketplace's own scheme or through ADR via the ODR Platform. See section 3.5 for more information.
Following the rules in this guidance, as well as the related links, should provide you with the basics needed to comply.
It is important to appreciate that online platforms, such as marketplaces, provide only digital infrastructure to facilitate trade. In order to use the platform, you, as a trader, agree to abide by the platform's rules as per its terms and conditions. Online platforms may also offer customer service functions, such as mechanisms to resolve disputes, payment processing facilities, etc.
However, by using these infrastructures and their various services, you do not necessarily satisfy the legal requirements prescribed by the distance selling or other trading standards laws explained in this guidance. This is because the online platforms currently enjoy the benefit of the liability exemption provided under the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (which implemented the EU E-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC)); under these Regulations, the platform simply acts as an intermediary providing, for example, only hosting services and therefore is not liable for the information stored and displayed by traders on its website.
Despite this, there are ongoing discussions at the European level to increase the responsibilities of online marketplaces. Among other things, these include:
- the automatic monitoring and exclusion of illegal content;
- obligations to cooperate with national enforcement authorities;
- enhanced transparency for paid ranking services;
- clarity of provision of general information to customers.
If you sell items to a consumer, their rights are guaranteed by law so they cannot be limited. Therefore, you cannot exclude the consumer's statutory rights if they buy in their capacity as a consumer, even with your terms and conditions.
Please note that these rules also apply to consumer notices such as 'no refunds' because they could create the impression that the consumer has fewer rights when buying from you. These rules are part of the unfair terms provisions under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Please see the below section for further details.
When you sell to a consumer, you cannot use contract terms to limit your liability towards your customers, as these could cause a significant imbalance in the rights and obligations of each party, with an unfair detriment to the consumer. Any such terms in your contract will be deemed unfair and declared null and void by the court. This means that they will have no effect on the consumer and might lead to enforcement action and other sanctions being taken against you.
Selling vintage electrical goods to be used as intended by the manufacturer, and claiming their usage is at the consumers' own risk. See the 'Unfair contract terms' guide elsewhere on this website.
If the consumer decides to cancel the contract for goods, you must reimburse all the payments they have made to you for those goods, including any delivery costs, unless the consumer has expressly chosen a more expensive delivery service. In this case you will need to reimburse only your standard delivery rate for that item. The consumer buyer will have to bear the cost of returning the goods only if this was agreed and made clear before the conclusion of the contract. In these circumstances they should only pay the actual cost of returning the goods without any extra fee. If you do not make this clear as part of the pre-contractual information, you will have to pay for the return postage costs.
You must collect the goods if you had offered to collect them. If not, the consumer must send the goods back or hand them over to you without undue delay and no later than 14 days after cancellation. Please read further on in this guidance for more details.
A refund should include all payments made by the consumer and no fee should normally be imposed. The refund should be made through the same means of payment as the one used by the buyer, unless agreed otherwise. Also, it needs to be made without undue delay and in any case no later than 14 days after the day you receive the goods back or the day the consumer supplies proof that they have sent them back, whichever is the earliest.
If, on receipt of the returned goods, it is found that the consumer handled the goods beyond what is necessary in order to establish their nature, characteristics and functioning (typically as they would be handled in a retail shop), and if this diminishes the value of the goods by any amount, you are entitled to claim that amount back from the consumer.
A consumer returned a set of new drill bits due to a change of mind, and one was found to be used beyond what is necessary considering the above; the value of the goods has been diminished as they can no longer be sold as new and some money can be claimed back.
Normally you would do this by reducing the amount refunded. However, this does not necessarily mean that a consumer has to always return goods unused or in unopened packaging, or in such condition that they can be re-sold as new.
According to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 the buyer is entitled to goods that are:
- as described;
- of satisfactory quality;
- fit for their purpose, including any specific purpose made known to the seller by the consumer;
- free from any charges and whose possession and ownership can be rightly transferred (for example, not subject to an ongoing hire purchase agreement);
If the goods received by the consumer do not meet the above standards, consumers have the right to reject them within the first 30 days after receipt and claim a full refund from you. The consumer also has the right to a free repair or replacement after the first 30 days, unless the expected life of the goods is shorter than 30 days. If the repair or replacement was not successful or not available, the consumer then may choose either a price reduction or a full refund (the "final right to reject" the goods).
In the first six months the 'reversed burden of proof' rule applies. This means that goods not conforming with the contract during the first six months will be assumed to have not conformed on the day they were delivered to the consumer. If you, as the trader, feel the rejected goods comply with the above standards, you will need to take action to prove this. If more than six months have passed, the consumer has to prove the defect was there at the time of delivery.
In addition to these rights there are other legal rights the consumer might claim under UK common law remedies (such as a claim for damages). But the consumer cannot recover the same loss twice.
If you would like to find out more about consumers' right to reject, repair or replace and the available consumer remedies when buying online please see 'The sale & supply of goods' guide on this website.
If you are selling to a consumer, you are responsible for the risk of loss or damage in transit until the goods are delivered to the consumer or to the person who the consumer identified to take physical possession of the goods. At this point the risk is transferred to the consumer. On the other hand, if the consumer stipulates that the goods must be delivered by their own carrier, which was not offered by you as a delivery option, the risk is transferred to the consumer at the time the goods are passed to the carrier.
A guarantee provided alongside the goods without extra charge must state the essential details, including information on how to make the claim (in English if the goods are offered in the UK), the name and address of the guarantor, duration and territorial scope. The guarantee must also state that the consumer has statutory rights which are not affected by the terms and conditions of the guarantee.
The contractual obligation arising from the guarantee binds the 'guarantor'; however, the consumer rights may go beyond your trader's guarantee or vice versa. This is because, whilst providing consumers with their statutory legal rights is mandatory under the law, the commercial warranty is a voluntary service and cannot affect the consumer's rights. So, for example, the trader's guarantee may be an upgrade to the consumer's statutory rights by having a longer duration, covering situations not covered by the legal guarantee, or offering additional services.
It may happen that the consumer asks to view the item you sell in person before making the purchase. The rationale of the CCRs on online sales is to protect consumers against purchases of goods they did not have the opportunity to inspect before buying. Therefore, in these instances the law will not give the consumer the same level of protection as an online contract.
You sell T-shirts online as well as in a shop and a local consumer decides to visit your shop and try on one of your items before making the purchase of that item online. In this instance, the contract is not deemed to be a distance contract and the consumer loses the special rights under CCRs – for example, the 14-day cooling off period.Back to top