Time to get compliant with a new eCommerce law

If you trade in Europe, a new e-commerce law – and a new set of compliance processes for your e-commerce operations – is on the horizon.

The Consumer Rights Directive is an EU-wide law. This means that each of the EU’s 28 member states has been required to incorporate the law into its national legislation. The Directive comes into force across Europe on Friday the 13th of June 2014.

The law applies to anyone selling goods, services, or digital content on or offline, with a small handful of industry-specific exceptions. It applies to apps as well as web sites.

Rather than being a new regime, the Consumer Rights Directive updates and replaces the existing e-commerce regulation, the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. It’s quite incredible to consider that the e-commerce law that governs Europe until the 13th of June was written way back in 1997, when “e-commerce” referred to Amstrad phones and Teletext offers! Clearly an update was needed.

So what does the new e-commerce law do, and what does it ask of us?

The Directive requires web sites and apps to be much more specific, open, and transparent about products and services. Its requirements can be grouped into seven areas:

  • Better information provided to the customer before a purchase;
  • Better information provided about digital downloads;
  • Better information provided about previously hidden costs;
  • Better information provided about the amount of money due in future;
  • Better information provided about cancellations, returns, and delivery times;
  • Better information provided to the customer after the purchase; and finally,
  • The banning of everyone’s least favourite e-commerce practice.

Your job as a web site designer or site administrator is to implement the changes required by the Directive. The bad news is that there are no shortcuts here – you will need to put in a few hours of work on each client site. The good news is that these changes are actually quite simple. You do not need to rip up anything – not your site, not your e-commerce, and not your apps – and rebuild them all from scratch. Compliance with the Consumer Rights Directive uses the same systems and shops you already have in place. At the outset, you may need to modify these systems yourself. As e-commerce and shopping cart providers begin to roll out upgrades reflecting the Directive’s requirements, your own compliance workload will lighten considerably.

A failure to comply with the the Consumer Rights Directive, whether intentional or accidental, has real, immediate, and direct consequences for sellers and traders. Carrying out a transaction on a noncompliant web site means that the consumer is not bound by the contract or the order. Essentially, the customer can keep the goods and their money. If they had committed to paying for a service or a subscription, a lack of compliance means they are no longer bound to it.

Responsibility for enforcement of the Directive falls to local Trading Standards offices across Europe. This allows consumers to report noncompliant traders on a local level in the communities where they operate. Trading Standards offices are authorised to demand compliance quickly and, if required, by court orders.

So what do you need to do to bring your web sites into compliance?

You have two options. You can read the text of the EU law, the English text of the UK’s law, and the UK’s implementing guidance documents to learn what you have to do and how to do it.

Alternatively, if reading legal texts isn’t your cup of tea, you can read the plain English guide to compliance I have published in advance of the Directive’s deadline. It breaks the compliance process down into simple steps and is packed with advice and links to further guidance. And, as Everyday Designer readers, you can get £5 off by entering coupon code “edrocks” at the checkout.

Best of luck in making your sites compliant!

Subscribe to our mailing list