Understand services rules and regulations

How to understand e-commerce regulations

What you’ll learn

  • the digital channels that are affected by e-commerce regulations
  • the consumer rights that are covered by GDPR
  • the consequences to your business if you do not stay compliant

Different types of e-commerce regulations

Regulations around e-commerce generally fall into 2 areas: distance selling and data protection. If you sell products through your own website and social media channels, or through online marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay, there are measures you need to take to stay compliant. 

Distance selling

When selling products online, you must provide certain information to your customers before and after each sale. This can range from providing accurate information on the cost and delivery of your products to making sure customers can correct errors on their order at any time during the process.

Every market, even inside the EU, has different regulations on distance selling. As a seller you should research and understand distance selling in each market you wish to sell to. For example, some countries require you to pay for returns, others do not.

There are also rules about how quickly you should deliver the goods to the customer — generally 30 days from the date of order, unless otherwise agreed — and how quickly you should provide an order confirmation.

You can see a full list of the steps you need to take with our online and distance selling guidance.

Making sure you stay compliant is important. If you don’t you may risk having to provide the goods at your own expense, pay compensation or even be fined. 

Data protection

If you’ve been trading in the UK for some time you’ve probably heard of the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR. GDPR sets out how you should collect, store and process customer data. It's impossible to avoid when trading through e-commerce channels. By law you must display your data protection policy clearly on your website.

The regulation has been put in place to help protect the rights of consumers, and it covers:

  • the right to be informed
  • the right of access
  • the right of rectification
  • the right of erasure
  • the right to object
  • the right to data portability
  • the right to restrict processing

There are also a number of rights around automated decision-making and profiling.

All these rights have an impact on how you display information on your digital channels, and how you communicate with your customers. They also influence what your customers have to do in order to give you permission to collect, store and process their data.

GDPR can be complex and a bit daunting. But it’s important that you keep your e-commerce channels compliant, or you’ll risk having to pay a hefty fine. Seek independent advice from a GDPR expert or read the detailed guidance on read the detailed guidance on GOV.UK.

EU regulations on market places

EU regulation on marketplaces require them to charge and collect VAT from you at the point of sale. For example, if you sell something on Amazon.fr the marketplace will collect the VAT on your behalf. If you then try and send the parcel from the UK DDP (delivery and duty paid) to your customer, you have to prove the VAT has been paid and collected.

Regulations in other countries

You should also be aware of any specific regulations in the countries you’re exporting to. Most countries have thresholds on the amount that can be imported before the UK seller has tax obligations for selling in that country. And this can apply to e-commerce transactions as well as traditional sales channels.

There are also separate rules if you sell through an online marketplace and your goods are held in the country you're selling in, at the point of sale.

E-commerce moves at an incredible pace, and it’s very easy to get caught up in the fast-moving technology and marketing strategies to generate sales. But be careful not to forget the rules around tax and customs when setting up.

International trade adviser

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