In the UK, you can’t escape the current national discussion regarding Brexit and the UK’s future in or out of the EU.
At ExtraDigital, we are involved in a number of international and European marketing projects and so we are naturally very interested in how any changes to our EU relationship will affect websites and online marketing.
While we’re not here to get involved in the political debate; we felt it was a good time to look at the EU rules and directives related to our industry starting with eCommerce websites and whether Brexit has implications selling online.
Current EU Rules for eCommerce
The main EU eCommerce regulations came into force back in 2002. The ‘Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002’ and was brought in to implement the EU’s Electronic Commerce Directive 2000 into UK laws.
Pretty much every website that promotes buying or selling is covered by the regulations, not just those offering online payment.
For example, a website offering quotes but not taking any payment online has to abide by the rules just as much as a website that allows you to buy and pay for products online.
This directive gave companies operating within the EU the ability to run eCommerce stores and websites throughout the European Union without having to abide by the different rules of 30 countries; they just need to abide one set of rules.
This definitely makes things easier for businesses selling online.
Just what is covered by the EU Directive?
There are various factors covered by the EU’s Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations and corresponding directives, these include..
Part of this EU directive ensures that all websites must have the following information provided:
- Name of service provider
For example, on our website, it is Extra Digital Ltd
- Geographical address of the service provider
I.e. address of business, HQ
- Details of the service provider including email address – needs to allow for rapid, direct and effective communication
(N.B. further amendments to the EU directive have confirmed that a contact form instead of an email address is not sufficient)
- IF the business is a member of a trade or similar register then public confirmation of this should be provided.
I.e. if the business is a registered company then the company’s registration should be provided
- A VAT number should be stated on the website if the business has one, even if the website is not being used for eCommerce transactions
- Prices on the website should be clear and unambiguous. They must state whether prices are inclusive of tax and show any delivery costs
You can find out more about the requirements on service providers information here with Out-Law.com.
These regulations also apply to those advertising online, via email, SMS and paid advertising on social platforms and search engines such as Facebook and Google. The information must be provided in the advertising itself or on the website with a clear link from the advertisements.
UK rules regarding contact between customers and businesses, including the handling of spam, is heavily dependent on the ‘Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations’ of 2003.
This EU directive stresses that businesses must have prior consent before sending unsolicited commercial emails. This consent can be gained quite simply by the person agreeing to a sale or negotiation of a sale. This directive is why there are opt out/in options on most online forms.
However, this directive also gave individual member states the option to state whether spam is lawful or unlawful in their own country.
Here in the UK spam is lawful, but over in Italy it is unlawful – this, however, does not mean that a UK company can spam an Italian customer, that act would be unlawful as you have to abide by the Italian’s decision to opt out.
Your ordering process and assurance of purchase are currently covered by the EU directives regarding eCommerce.
The directive states the following...
- That all customers who place an order online must be provided with effective and appropriate means to allow them to identify any input errors.
I.e. there have to be error messages prompting you to fill in any incorrectly entered fields.
- There must be receipt of the order sent electronically without delay.
- There must be terms and conditions clearly found on your website to show how contracts are forms and sales are taken. Refund process must be shown here as well.
Additional UK Rules Impacting eCommerce
It is not just EU rules that we need to abide by, there are also further UK rules which clarify certain aspects of the EU directive to give consumers and businesses in the UK more protection.
These further rules affecting eCommerce include the Distance Selling Regulations and the Companies Act of 2006. Both of these UK laws need to be taken into account when ensuring that your website meets regulations.
Impact of Brexit on UK eCommerce Websites
It’s almost impossible to foresee the potential impact on UK based eCommerce stores should the UK leave the EU.
It is highly likely many practices dictated by the EU directives will continue even if the UK leaves the EU, simply either as industry best practice or in UK versions of these directives.
Indeed, the consumer protection ideals of the EU directives pre-date the EU and are in part based on UK legislation and civil laws.
Should the UK leave the EU there could be implications on our eCommerce abilities with other European countries. However, at least in the short term very little is likely to change as businesses in EU countries will want to continue to operate in the UK and therefore, they would need to allow UK businesses to operate in EU countries.
It is important here to understand that whilst the EU has free trade in goods, it does not have free trade in services – there are limits trading services within the EU even now and the situation could be very different if the UK left.
Either way the eCommerce practices, rules, and operations will require through deliberation. This could be the opportunity to make some big progressive and effective changes to our eCommerce industry, whether the UK stays in the EU or opts out.